Japan nuclear crisis deepens

 
Marion Dakers
THE NUCLEAR crisis in Japan was yesterday upgraded to the maximum level of severity, on a par with the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

The problems centred around the Fukushima Daiichi plant are now classed as “a major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects”, the International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday.

The partial meltdowns are now rated as a level seven incident, up from level five previously – though the classification relates to the original explosions after the quake and tsunami on 11 March, and the ongoing efforts to cool the reactors have not altered.

The levels of radioactivity at Fukushima are around 10 per cent of those recorded at Chernobyl.

“Raising the level to a seven has serious diplomatic implications,” said Osaka University professor Kenji Sumita. “It is telling people that the accident has the potential of causing trouble to our neighbours.”

Global fund managers have cut their exposure to Japanese equities sharply this month following the disasters, according to a Bank of America-Merrill Lynch survey out yesterday.

The poll of 282 fund managers showed a net 18 per cent now underweight compared with a net eight per cent overweight a month ago.

Japan’s economic output continues to suffer following the quake, with supply chains still under pressure.

The government estimates the material damage alone could top £184bn, making it by far the world’s costliest natural disaster.

Ford’s US shares were hit yesterday after the carmaker warned that disruption to supplies could temporarily halt production and eat into the company’s earnings.