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Japan crisis: Nuclear agency joins France in raising danger assessment

Japan’s nuclear agency raised its assessment of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station from a level 4 to a level 5 on a 7-level international scale for nuclear accidents, matching an earlier assessment by France.

By Correspondent / March 18, 2011

An aerial view shows Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima on March 18. Reactors 1 to 4 are seen from left to right in this picture, taken from more than 25 miles away.

Kyodo/Reuters

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Japan's nuclear agency raised the danger assessment at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Friday as engineers there continued to spray water on the No. 3 reactor in an attempt to cool spent fuel rods, and as work continued to restore electricity to the plant to bring the electric cooling system back online.

A week after Japan’s largest recorded earthquake sent a tsunami surging over the plant, crippling it, engineers are still struggling to keep the crisis from becoming a full-blown catastrophe. Fuel rods in three of the six reactors are thought to have partially melted, while spent fuel rods in cooling pools that have ceased to function also posed urgent problems.

BBC reports that Japan’s nuclear agency raised the assessment of the severity of the crisis from level 4 to 5 on a 7-level international scale for nuclear accidents, matching an earlier assessment by the head of France's Nuclear Safety Authority Tuesday. Level 5 is used to describe an accident with “wider consequences.” The move puts it on the same level as the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US, and two levels below the Chernobyl meltdown.

Meanwhile, soldiers from Japan’s Self Defense Force sprayed water onto the No. 3 reactor Friday, using fire trucks and water cannons, continuing Thursday’s efforts to keep spent fuel rods covered so they do not release massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere, reports Japanese broadcaster NHK.

The New York Times reports that Thursday’s efforts to cool the fuel, including the use of a helicopter to dump water on the reactor, were largely unsuccessful, according to US officials. Japanese officials said they would not use the helicopter strategy again Friday, instead using fire trucks.

The Times reports that as the water was poured on the No. 3 reactor, steam was seen rising from No. 2. Kyodo News reports that officials are considering using the trucks to also douse the spent fuel pool in the No. 1 reactor, although it’s not as critical as the No. 3 or No. 4.

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