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Japanese Officials Raise Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Alert, Expand Evacuation Zone Around Plant

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency on Tuesday “raised the level of severity at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from 5 to 7 – the highest level on the international scale and equal to the Chernobyl accident,” ABC News reports. The decision by the agency came after an assessment revealed “the damaged reactors have been releasing large amounts of radioactive substances that pose a threat to humans and the environment in a much wider area” than initially suspected, according to the news service (Tangalo, 4/12).

“Although Level 7 is the highest level of IAEA International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) rating, it is estimated that the amount of discharged radioactive materials to the environment in the current stage is about 10 percent of the Chernobyl accident,” International Business Times reports (4/12).

“The reassessment on the U.N.’s International Nuclear Events Scale (INES) came as Japan prepared to evacuate more people living near the plant, extending the 20-kilometre (12-mile) exclusion zone to take in several towns further afield,” Agence France-Presse/MSN News reports (4/12).

VOA News describes how a series of strong aftershocks has complicated efforts to repair “systems at the Fukushima plant, including a 6.0-magnitude quake Tuesday that forced workers to evacuate the site for the second time in two days.” However, despite these challenges, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan held a nationally televised news conference on Tuesday where he expressed reassurance that the situation at the site is improving. He remarked that the “situation is moving ‘one step at a time’ toward stability,” according to the news service (4/12).

Reuters describes health experts’ concerns over the long-term impacts of radiation on the public. “Experts are most worried about three radioactive substances – iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137 – all of which can cause various types of cancer years later,” the news service writes. “Experts called for long-term tracking and monitoring of the health of survivors living near the plant as well as the hundreds of nuclear plant workers now battling to get the Fukushima nuclear plant under control” to inform policy decisions and health care planning in the future (Lyn, 4/12).

“Meanwhile, Greenpeace has said that in a survey conducted in Fukushima last week, its team of experts found radiation levels 75 times higher than the government recommendation in 11 samples of vegetables from gardens and small farms,” TIME’s “Ecocentric” blog reports (Mahr, 4/11).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.