Alexandra Pope, staff writer
April 12, 2011 — The severity of the ongoing crisis at Japan's tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was raised from a 5 to a 7 on the nuclear incident rating scale Tuesday, according to unconfirmed reports.
The change places the crisis at the highest level on the incident scale and equal to the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl.
Japan's public broadcaster quoted sources at Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency as saying the agency would boost the rating; however, an agency spokesman declined to confirm the report.
The decision was reportedly made after a preliminary report by Japan's Nuclear Safety Commission revealed the damaged plant may have been releasing greater amounts of radiation in the hours following the quake and tsunami than previously thought.
The levels have since come down substantially and stayed down.
A level 7 incident indicates a “major release” of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects.
Earlier on Tuesday, plant operator TEPCo said it had extinguished a small fire near one of the plant's reactors. It's not known if the fire was related to a magnitude 6.6 aftershock that rattled the area on Monday.
Japan is still reeling from the massive earthquake and tsunami that rocked the country one month ago.
Just last week, TEPCo reported it had plugged a radioactive leak at the Fukushima plant, which suffered a number of explosions and fires after the tsunami caused its reactor cooling systems to fail.
With files from the Associated Press and Kyodo News