Japan raises accident severity level

Fukushima/Tokyo: Japan on Friday raised the threat level at its quake-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant as it battled to prevent a meltdown of overheating reactors and sought the US help to contain the atomic crisis described by the IAEA as "extremely serious."

The accident severity level at the plant was raised from four to five on the 7-point international scale by Japan`s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, placing the crisis two levels below Ukrain`s 1986 Chernobyl disaster, a week after the magnitude-9 quake and massive tsunami rocked the country leaving over 16,000 people dead or unaccounted for.

The move also placed the crisis on par with the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979.

The provisional evaluation stands at level 5 of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale for the plant`s No.1, No.2 and No.3 reactors as their cores are believed to have partially melted and radiation leaks continue, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency was quoted as saying by Kyodo.

"This is the largest crisis for Japan," Prime Minister Naoto Kan said during his meeting with visiting IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, adding that "every organisation (of the government)…is making all-out efforts to deal with the problem."

Soon after arriving in Tokyo, Amano, a Japanese national who was accompanied by a four-member team of nuclear experts, said: "We see it (the nuclear crisis) as an extremely serious accident."

"The international community is extremely concerned about this issue, and it`s important to cooperate in dealing with it," he said, adding it was a race against clock.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the nuclear plant, accelerated efforts to restore the lost cooling function of the reactors by reconnecting electricity to the site through outside power lines.

Some of the power distribution boards at the plant have been damaged by the quake-triggered tsunami and TEPCO will use makeshift replacement equipment.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano suggested that the Japanese government may review its nuclear power policy in the wake of the ongoing crisis.

But, he said, the government cannot make a decision yet on the country`s overall, long-term nuclear power policy as it first has to "deal with the situation at hand."

"We are simply doing our best to prevent the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station from affecting public health and help as much as possible in preventing the situation from deteriorating further," he said, adding that authorities were coordinating with the US as to what help Washington "can provide and what people really need."