Japan has raised the crisis level at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from Level 5, on par with the Three Mile Island incident, to Level 7, the worst possible disaster rating on an internationally recognized scale. The only other time a Level 7 threat has been issued was during the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986. This is the first time Japan has increased the threat level since a week after the massive earthquake and tsunami. The country’s nuclear agency pushed up the crisis ranking because they say radiation being released from the crippled facility poses a substantial and long-lasting threat to human health and the environment over a wide area. However, Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency still believes the cumulative amount of radiation is less than the volume emitted from Chernobyl — when hundreds of thousands of terabecquerels of radioactive iodine-131 were released into the air.
In a nationally televised speech, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the reactors were being stabilized and that radiation releases were declining. In the midst of calling on citizens to continue buying products from the affected areas in the northeast to help avert an economic crisis, Kan defended Japan’s poor record in releasing information about the plant. Although nuclear experts have been saying for weeks that the facility was leaking significant amounts of radiation, officials downplayed the scenario, waiting until now to acknowledge the threat. Kan said even as prime minister, he didn’t always have all the facts: