TOKYO — Japan raised the severity level of the crisis at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday to rank it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing cumulative radiation leaks contaminating the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater.
Japanese nuclear regulators said the rating was being raised from 5 to 7 — the highest level on an international scale overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency — after new assessments of radiation leaks from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant since it was disabled by the March 11 tsunami.
The new ranking signifies a “major accident” with “wider consequences” than the previous level, including widespread health effects, according to the Vienna-based IAEA.
However, Japanese officials have played down any health effects of radioactive releases so far from the Fukushima plant. They said the leaks amount to only a tenth of the radiation emitted in the Chernobyl disaster, while acknowledging they eventually could exceed Chernobyl’s emissions if the crisis continues.
“This reconfirms that this is an extremely major disaster. We are very sorry to the public, people living near the nuclear complex and the international community for causing such a serious accident,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yuki Edano.
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