Nuclear Meltdown

Japan to save nuclear plant from edge of disaster

Updated: 2011-03-17 08:20
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TOKYO - Operators of a quake-crippled nuclear plant in Japan said they would try again on Thursday to use military helicopters to douse overheating reactors and avert disaster after an earlier attempt was abandoned because of high radiation at the site.

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In another sign of international frustration at the pace of updates from Japan, Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he would fly to Japan on Thursday to glean first hand information on the crisis.  

Several experts said the Japanese authorities were underplaying the severity of the incident, particularly on a scale called INES used to rank nuclear incidents. The Japanese have so far rated the accident a four on a one-to-seven scale, but that rating was issued on Saturday and since then the situation has worsened dramatically.

France's nuclear safety authority ASN said on Tuesday it should be classed as a level-six incident.

At its worst, radiation in Tokyo reached 0.809 microsieverts per hour on Tuesday - 10 times below what a person would receive if exposed to a dental x-ray. For Wednesday, radiation levels were barely above average.  

But many Tokyo residents stayed indoors. Usually busy streets were nearly deserted. Many shops and offices were closed.  

There have been hundreds of aftershocks and more than two dozen were greater than magnitude 6, the size of the earthquake that severely damaged Christchurch, New Zealand, last month - powerful enough to sway buildings in Tokyo.  

About 850,000 households in the north were still without electricity in near-freezing weather, Tohuku Electric Power Co. said, and the government said at least 1.5 million households lack running water. Tens of thousands of people were missing.