Factbox: International nuclear event scale explained

Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:27am EDT

(Reuters) - Japan Tuesday raised the severity level of its nuclear crisis to put it on par with the Chernobyl accident 25 years ago, the worst atomic power in history.

But what does that mean?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- an inter-governmental organization for scientific co-operation in the nuclear field -- said it uses the scale to communicate to the public in a consistent way the safety significance of nuclear and radiological events.

The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, or INES, ranges from one to seven. The most serious level is a seven, which refers to a "major accident," while a one is an "anomaly." The scale is designed so the severity of an event is about 10 times greater for each increase in level.

The following are some examples of accidents according to their INES level from the IAEA, see here

LEVEL 7 - MAJOR ACCIDENT

A major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures.

* CHERNOBYL, Soviet Union (now Ukraine), 1986 - An explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Western Russia and Europe.

LEVEL 6 - SERIOUS ACCIDENT:

A significant release of radioactive material likely to require implementation of planned countermeasures.

* KYSHTYM, Soviet Union (now Russia), 1957 - Significant

release of radioactive material to the environment from

explosion of high activity waste tank.

LEVEL 5 - ACCIDENT WITH WIDER CONSEQUENCES:

A limited release of radioactive material likely to require implementation of some planned countermeasures and several deaths from radiation.

* THREE MILE ISLAND, USA, 1979 - Severe damage to reactor

core. This event galvanized opposition to a growing core

anti-nuclear power movement in the United States. After

this event, energy companies did not start the construction

of any new reactors in the United States for over 30 years

and stopped work on several reactors that were already under

construction

* WINDSCALE PILE, UK, 1957 - A release of radioactive

material following a fire in a reactor core

* GOIANIA, Brazil, 1987 - Four people died and six people

received high doses of radiation.

LEVEL 4 - ACCIDENT WITH LOCAL CONSEQUENCES:

A minor release of radioactive material unlikely to result in implementation of planned countermeasures other than local food controls and fuel melt, or damage to fuel resulting in more than 0.1 percent release of core inventory, and the release of significant quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high probability of significant public exposure.

* TOKAIMURA, Japan, 1999 - Fatal overexposure of workers

following a criticality event at a nuclear facility.

* SAINT-LAURENT-DES-EAUX, France, 1980 - Melting of one

channel of fuel in the reactor with no release outside

the site.

* FLEURUS, Belgium, 2006 - Severe health effects for

worker at a commercial irradiation facility as a result of

high doses of radiation.

(Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit and Scott DiSavino in New York, editing by Miral Fahmy)

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