VIENNA (Kyodo) The crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant ranks between the accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, a senior U.N. official said Wednesday.

Wolfgang Weiss, chairman of the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, said the situation that resulted in Fukushima from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami isn’t as big in scale as the 1986 Chernobyl incident in the former Soviet Union, but is far more serious than the 1979 Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

Noting the Fukushima plant faces the Pacific, Weiss told a news conference that its impact on human beings has been smaller than the Chernobyl disaster, which spewed radioactive substances across Europe.

“It is not as dramatic as Chernobyl, but it is certainly much much more serious than in Three Mile Island,” he said, adding it is very difficult to foresee the consequences since the crisis is still ongoing.

Even a current assessment is difficult, Weiss suggested.

“The information we are getting is far from pointing out a picture which we would need to make an immediate assessment,” he said. “We don’t always have the information we would like to have. Measurements are patchy and unclear.”

On March 18, Japan’s nuclear safety agency placed the severity of the crisis at the six-reactor complex at 5 on the international scale of 7, putting it on the same level as Three Mile Island. Foreign experts, however, have been predicting the level will reach 6 or higher.

The highest level on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale is occupied solely by the Chernobyl catastrophe, at 7.

Weiss said Japan’s initial response to the crisis differed from that used in Chernobyl. He also said he believes the government’s order to evacuate residents in a 20-km radius of the plant remains appropriate.

As for the health effects of the Fukushima incident, Weiss said that within two years, the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation will compile a report on such key issues as environmental impact and health risks of the accident.

The committee will check the health of workers fighting to contain the crisis who have been exposed to high radiation, Weiss said.

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