Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fukushima Disaster Raised to Maximum Level 7: Evacuees

Evacuees Wonder About The Future at Evacuation Centers

Japanese authorities have raised their rating of the severity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis to the highest level on an international scale, on a par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.  Officials with Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission reclassified the ongoing emergency from Level 5, an “accident with off-site risk,” to Level 7, a “major accident.” A Level 7 accident, according to the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, is typified by a “major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects.”  Previously only Chernobyl had been given a 7 rating. The 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania was rated a Level 5 incident.

According to the Kyodo news agency, the Nuclear Safety Commission reported Monday that the plant, at one point after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, had been releasing 10,000 terabecquerels of radioactivity per hour. A release of tens of thousands of terabecquerels per hour corresponds with the leakage level that the IAEA uses as a minimum benchmark for a Level 7 accident.

The crisis has prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands within 19 miles of the plant. Some 150,000 Japanese now live in evacuation centers because their homes were destroyed by waves or contaminated by radiation. They live in unsanitary conditions and stress is mounting because evacuees are worried where they will live in the future. Most shelters now feature heat and running water and three good meals a day. Few evacuees have found other places to go.

According to statistics from Japan’s national police agency, the March 11 disaster collapsed 47,776 buildings. Another 11,030 partially collapsed. Some 84 burned down. Another 2,736 were flooded above floor level.

Combined, Japan’s hardest-hit prefectures — Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima — have requested 60,000 prefab homes. Japan’s prefab construction association said it can build 30,000 within the next two months; the other 30,000 within the following three months. But for now, the construction association faces a problem: Local authorities still don’t know where to put the new buildings. So far, land for 8,000 has been secured. (Wash Post, 4/12/2011, Wash Post, 4/11/2011)

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