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Shells of nuclear reactor buildings seen at stricken Japan plant via CNN

Tokyo (CNN) — Journalists got their first ground-level glance Saturday around Japan’s stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility — eying shells of reactor buildings, tons of contaminated water and workers scurrying still to mitigate damage from a crisis that began eight months ago.

An epic 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami March 11 wreaked havoc around Japan, killing more than 15,000 people. While many of those died instantly, the East Asian nation was on edge for weeks as utility and government employees scrambled to prevent a worsening nuclear catastrophe at the Daiichi plant, located about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Tokyo.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency eventually categorized the accident as a level-7 event on the international scale for nuclear disasters — the highest level — putting it on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

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