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Japan raises nuclear crisis level

Japan's nuclear safety agency has raised the severity rating of the country's nuclear crisis from Level 4 to Level 5, putting it on a par with the 1979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States.

Ryohei Shiomi, a spokesman for the nuclear safety agency, confirmed the rating for the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear crisis had been raised on the seven-level International Nuclear Event Scale.

The scale defines a Level 4 incident as having local consequences and a Level 5 incident as having wider consequences.

The hallmarks of a Level 5 emergency are severe damage to a reactor core, release of large quantities of radiation with a high probability of "significant" public exposure or several deaths from radiation.

A partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania was also ranked a Level 5.

The Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine in 1986, which killed at least 31 people with radiation sickness, raised long-term cancer rates, and spewed radiation for hundreds of miles, was ranked a Level 7.

France's Nuclear Safety Authority has said it believes the crisis in north-eastern Japan should be ranked Level 6 on the scale.

Meanwhile, Japan's radioactive fallout has reached Southern California but first readings are "about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening," a diplomat said

The diplomat, who has access to UN radiation tracking, was citing readings from one of its California-based measuring stations.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation does not usually make its data public.

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