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“Japanese nuclear plant hit by fire and third explosion: Radiation around Fukushima Daiichi plant has reached levels damaging to health” via Guardian

Japan is facing the world’s biggest nuclear crisis for decades as engineers struggle to regain control of the Fukushima plant following another explosion and a fire that caused a spike in radiation to harmful levels.

Amid growing fears that the situation is heading for catastrophe, 70 technicians are still battling to cool reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi facility but non-essential personnel have been ordered to leave and the Kyodo news agency reported that radiation levels have become too high for staff to remain in control rooms. The government has already called in international help in tackling the spiralling crisis.

Early on Tuesday, the power plant in the country’s stricken north-east was rocked by an explosion at the No 2 reactor, the third blast at the site in four days. That was followed by a fire that broke out at the No 4 reactor unit, which appeared to be the cause of today’s radiation leaks. That reactor was shut down for maintenance before the earthquake, but its spent fuel rods are stored in a pool at the site. The fire was later extinguished but Kyodo reported that the pool was subsequently boiling, with the water level falling. If the water boils off there is a risk that the fuel could catch fire, sending a plume of radiation directly into the atmosphere.

Radiation levels at one location on the site reached 400 millisieverts (mSv) an hour after the fire – four times the level that can lead to cancer – the chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano, said. But levels had lowered dramatically by the end of the day, according to the International Atomic Energy Authority.

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