Citing reports from its embassy in Tokyo and instructions from President Benigno Aquino III, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila has announced the start of mandatory repatriation of Filipinos who are within the 50-kilometer radius of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant whose disaster level is now at par with Chernobyl.

The DFA statement also added that “as a precautionary measure, the Philippines would additionally be declaring a voluntary repatriation for those from a 50-kilometer to 100-kilometer radius. This would, in total, involve about 2,000 Filipinos, not counting children”.

The Philippine government will absorb the full cost of repatriation to the Philippines, said the DFA.

The DFA also said that its repatriation plan include chartering of aircraft from Niigata airport in northwest Japan and that it expects its first repatriation flight to fly out of Niigata on April 17.

The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) is expected to screen Filipinos arriving from areas close to Fukushima.

Manila’s decision comes hours after Japan made an important announcement regarding the Fukushima disaster.

According to Japan state broadcaster NHK:

Japan’s nuclear safety agency has raised the crisis level at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to 7, from the current 5.

The agency told reporters on Tuesday that large volumes of radioactive substances that could affect human health and the environment are being released in a wide area.

Level 7 is the highest rank on an international standard and equivalent to the severity recorded after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

The International Atomic Energy Agency explains what Level 7 means:

The nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi is now rated as a level 7 “Major Accident” on INES. Level 7 is the most serious level on INES and is used to describe an event comprised of “A major release of radioactive material with widespread health and environmental effects requiring implementation of planned and extended countermeasures”. Japanese authorities notified the IAEA in advance of the public announcement and the formal submission of the new provisional rating.

Read more about INES here.