Japan May Raise Nuclear Alert To Level 7, Same as Chernobyl, After Fire at Plant

level 7 nuclear warning in japanJapan has suffered two more earthquakes in the past 24 hours, including a 6.6 aftershock in Fukushima that forced the evacuation of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Hours later, news broke of a fire at the Fukushima plant. The fire was reportedly close to damaged reactor 4, and although a spokesperson said “flames and smoke are no longer visible”, there has been no information about the scope or seriousness of the fire. And now, news reports suggest that Japanese officials may raise the level of the nuclear alert to Level 7.

Previously, the alert level was 5, equivalent to the Three Mile Island disaster. Level 7 would be equivalent to the Chernobyl disaster, AKA the worst nuclear disaster in history. The  International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale ranks nuclear accidents from 1 to 7. So Level 7 is as bad as it gets. Alertwise, anyway.

News reports were made by Kyodo News agency and public broadcasting network NKH. Both networks quoted sources at Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, but NISA has not confirmed these broadcast reports.  It’s not clear whether the Level 7 alert is the result of additional damage to the plant during the fire or aftershock,  whether the aftershock might have triggered the fire, or whether all these events are unrelated.

A number of nuclear experts have suggested that Japan might be underrating the disaster from the beginning.

“It has been obvious all along this was a 7. There are three reactors that are not being cooled (No. 1, 2 & 3) and four fuel pools too (No. 1, 2, 3, and especially 4),” said Arnie Gundersen, who worked on similar reactors during his 29 years in the nuclear industry. No information has been forthcoming from Japan about what might be causing the change in alert level. TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu visited Fukushima for the first time today since the disaster. He had been completely out of sight since his original, very curt apology.

Today he was more communicative, offering a more heartfelt apology: “I would like to deeply apologize again for causing physical and psychological hardships to people of Fukushima prefecture and near the nuclear plant,”  He also led a moment of silence with other officials at 2:46 pm Japanese time- one month to the minute after the earthquake hit.

Out of nowhere tonight, my son suggested we light a candle for Japan and say something about all the people who were suffering there. “I hope it gets better for them,” he said. I hope so too.

[via Yahoo News]

photo: jchong/flickr

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