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Fukushima gets worst crisis rating. But how much radiation has been released?

Based on new estimates of the radiation that has been released, Fukushima now has the worst score on the IAEA's accident rating scale. But much about the reactors, and their future, is still unknown.

This April 10 photo released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) shows orange colored floats suspending 'silt fence,' that was installed under water to help prevent contaminated water from spreading outside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant's bay. The tsunami-crippled nuclear complex is still leaking radiation after its cooling systems were knocked out by the March 11 tsunami, and the government on April 11 urged even more people living around the complex to leave within a month, citing concerns about long-term health risks from radiation as the crisis wears on.

Tokyo Electric Power Co./AP

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Japan on Tuesday raised its assessment of the severity of the situation at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to 7 – the worst score possible on the accident rating scale overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

That does not mean the Fukushima crisis has suddenly become more dire. Japanese nuclear regulators said they moved the rating up from its previous position of 5 due to new assessments of the total amount of radiation released from the plant since it was pulverized by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

So far the Fukushima accident has resulted in a release of about one-tenth of the amount of radiation that escaped from Chernobyl, the worst civilian nuclear disaster to date. Japanese officials said there was a small chance that Fukushima could eventually exceed Chernobyl’s emissions if workers are not able to soon restore the site’s crippled cooling systems.

IN PICTURES: Japan's 9.0 earthquake

“This reconfirms that this is an extremely major disaster. We are very sorry to the public, people living near the nuclear complex, and the international community for causing such a serious accident,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.


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