Level 7

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This morning NISA, Japan's nuclear regulatory agency, held a news conference to provisionally place the Fukushima nuclear incident at INES level 7: Major Accident - Major release of radio­active ­material with widespread health and environmental effects r­equiring implementation of planned and extended ­countermeasures.

There's only been one other level 7 incident and you all know it, Chernobyl. The media have been screaming Chernobyl since the beginning. Are they justified now? I don't know. The situation at Fukushima is a major accident but it is not quite like Chernobyl. But like Chernobyl, we won't really know its true impact for decades. Have you looked at the research and reports on the Russian accident? They are all over the place in their conclusions. I imagine Fukushima will be the same as time goes on.

The reason NISA decided to change the rating to Level 7 is that "more than tens of thousands of terabecquerels of radioactive iodine 131" have been released and in a few towns in Fukushima the level of radiation in the past month has exceeded the annual accumulation limits. The overall amount of radiation released at Fukushima is currently unknown, ongoing, and coming under control, but the experts here expect it will be less than the overall amount released at Chernobyl, which was somewhere around  250,000 terabecquerels depending on which report you read.

The Fukushima accident has crept along losing (and sometimes gaining) ground day-to-day. While this slow progress towards a conclusion has caused high stress to many people immediately and indirectly affected, the slow pace of the disaster has also allowed time to evacuate citizens, make decisions, and monitor radiation levels in the populace and food supply. It's no less dangerous in the long run, but it isn't as immediately catastrophic. 22 people died of acute radiation sickness at Chernobyl in the first month after the accident. As far as we know, nobody has died of radiation sickness at Fukushima. And despite all the images of nuclear evacuees getting wanded with Geiger counters in shelters, I haven't read reports of people being turned away for excessive pinging or glowing.

And excepting those towns in Fukushima, radiation levels have been gradually decreasing. There are currently no issues with I-131 in the water; general environmental levels are back into normal ranges; and some bans have been lifted on agricultural products. So even though the Fukushima accident is now a level 7, outside the exclusion zone daily life is returning to its usual levels of radioactivity according to the multiple independent sources who are measuring.

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