Japan 48 hours from Chernobyl - report
Johannesburg - Disaster-struck Japan has 48 hours to bring its steadily growing nuclear crisis under control and avoid a catastrophe "worse than Chernobyl", reported The Telegraph on Thursday, citing a French nuclear expert.
"The next 48 hours will be decisive. I am pessimistic because, since Sunday, I have seen that almost none of the solutions have worked," Thierry Charles, a safety official at France's Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), said according to the online version of the paper.
Alarm has been raised that the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in north-eastern Japan may be on the verge of spewing more radioactive material because there was no water in a storage pool for spent nuclear fuel rods.
The troubles at several of the plant's reactors were set off when last week's earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and ruined backup generators needed for their cooling systems, adding a major nuclear crisis for Japan as it dealt with twin natural disasters that killed more than 10 000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
Although Charles described the situation as "a major risk", he said added all was not "lost".
He told the paper the maximum possible amount of radioactive release would be "in the same range as Chernobyl".
Two killed at plant
Considered the worst nuclear disaster in history, the incident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine on April 26 1986 is estimated to have caused 57 direct deaths, with around 4 000 additional deaths from cancer over the years.
French government spokesperson Francois Baroin also said in a worst case scenario, the nuclear crisis in Japan could "have an impact worse than Chernobyl" as the Japanese had visibly lost the essential of control", The Telegraph reported.
The report also said the owners of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric, said five workers had been killed at the site while two were missing and 21 had been injured.
However, despite the grim forecast by the French, British nuclear expert at the Chatham House think tank, Malcolm Grimston told the paper Fukushima could not be compared to Chernobyl.
"We're nearly five days after the fission process was stopped, the levels of radioactive iodine will only be about two thirds of where they were at the start, some of the other, very short-lived, very radioactive material will be gone altogether by now," he said.
At one point on Wednesday, radiation levels at the plant rose to such dangerous levels that all workers were evacuated from the site. But work resumed hours later with a team of 180 continuing attempts to cool the reactor's fuel rods.