Japan agency hikes Fukushima accident level to 5

OSAKA, Japan, March 18, 2011 (AFP) - Japan's nuclear safety agency on Friday raised the Fukushima accident level to five from four on the international scale of gravity for atomic accidents, which goes as high as seven.

The agency's decision puts the Fukushima crisis on the same level as the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

This image taken on March 17, 2011 and received on March 18, 2011 from DigitalGlobe shows a satellite image of the damage to the reactors (C) at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi (no. 1) nuclear power plant. AFP

France's Nuclear Safety Authority rates the Fukushima crisis at six on the scale. The Chernobyl disaster is put at seven, the highest.

Level 5 indicates "an accident with wider consequences", according to the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), while level four means there has been an "accident with local consequences."

The March 28, 1979 accident at Three Mile Island was a partial reactor meltdown that led to "very small" releases of radioactivity, according to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). It caused no casualties.

The April 26, 1986 explosion at the Soviet atomic power plant in Chernobyl was the world's worst nuclear disaster.

Unleashed by an unauthorised technical experiment, it spewed radioactive dust over swathes of Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and western Europe. The death toll ranges from a UN 2005 estimate of 4,000 to tens or even hundreds of thousands, proposed by non-governmental groups.

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