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Mark Kinver | 10:00 UK time, Friday, 15 April 2011

This edition of Green Room assesses what information is available about the impact of the radiological incident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. It also looks at online resources that help the amateur botanist tell the difference between a Fagus and Carpinus.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (Image: AP/Tepco)

The tsunami wiped out power supplies at Fukushima, causing three of the six reactors to overheat

On 11 March, coastal towns along the north-eastern shores of Japan were devastated when a massive Magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami struck the region.

In the immediate aftermath, the world was shocked by TV pictures showing the sheer scale and force with which the wall of water wiped whole towns off the map, but another story was developing that would come to dominate the headlines.

Fukushima will now be forever associated with one of the world's most serious civil nuclear incidents, especially after Japanese officials this week reclassified the event to Level Seven on an international scale of seriousness. Until now, the only event to warrant a Level Seven status was Chernobyl.

The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), an-eight-level-system, was developed in 1990 by the nuclear sector as a method to communicate the seriousness of an event at a civil nuclear facility, in an effort to reassure people following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. It ranges from Zero (no safety significance) through to Seven (major accident).

Now that the international media are no longer covering every twist and turn in minute-by-minute coverage, there are still a number of organisations providing at-least daily updates on developments.

The UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been attempting to provide fact-based information in an "update log" amid confusing coverage across a spectrum of vested interests, from anti-nuclear activists to industry lobbyists.

On Tuesday 12 April, the IAEA offered an explanation as to why Japanese officials had sought to upgrade the incident:

"The IAEA can confirm that the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) has submitted a provisional INES Level 7 rating for the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. This new provisional rating considers the accidents that occurred at Units 1, 2 and 3 as a single event on INES and uses estimated total release to the atmosphere as a justification. Previously, separate provisional INES Level 5 ratings had been applied for Units 1, 2 and 3."

As well as regular updates from Fukushima by the plant's operators Tepco, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) is another source for continuing coverage, although some of the detail can get lost in translation.

An additional source of information is provided by World Nuclear News, an arm of the World Nuclear Association (WNA). The news aims to be "plain English to place comprehensive coverage of nuclear power in context using background information, expert commentary and links to relevant authoritative sources".

Spring has sprung

Finally, if are planning on getting out and about to enjoy the delights of spring in full swing, then there are a number of online resources to help you identify the plants and animals around you. The British Trust for Ornithology can help you tell your tits from your chaffinches; the Woodland Trust is there to tell you the difference between beech and birch; while the Botanical Society of the British Isles can offer guidance on a whole host of botanical delights, beside the lake, beneath the trees.

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