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Japanese military called in to douse damaged nuclear reactor

Reuters/Yuriko Nakao
5 min

The Japanese military has been called in help cool off a nuclear reactor at the Fukushima-Daiichi plant, damaged by Friday’s earthquake, after crews were evacuated due to fears of rising radiation levels. Live TV footage showed a cloud of white smoke billowing out of the plant on Wednesday.

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Military personnel are to use a helicopter to pour water on the reactor’s fuel rods, public media reported Wednesday. Earlier, crews working to contain a new fire were told to evacuate as radiation levels rose.

Officials said radiation levels peaked at 6.4 millisieverts. Correspondent Stephen Phelan in Ishikawa prefecture says the levels peaked, and then went down.

Correspondent Stephen Phelan, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan

“Workers were withdrawn when the level of radiation went up to over 6,000 millisieverts per hour, which is about 10,000 times normal level of background radiation,” he explained. “But those numbers receded back to two thirds of that level within a half an hour. So it is expected that those workers will be able to go back in.”

The containment vessel around the core of the plant’s reactor No. 3 may have suffered damage after an explosion Monday tore off the outer structure of the building.

Crews fought a new fire early Wednesday at reactor No. 4, but it was later put out, according to the plant’s operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco).

Phelan says officials are worried about other reactors as well.

“Concerns have spread to the other four reactors… including a couple that were offline at the time of the earthquake,” he said.

The Defense Ministry is set to send a total of 100,000 troops, about 40 percent of its military force, known as the Self Defence Forces.

Meanwhile, another strong earthquake hit Japan on Wednesday, according to the US Geological Survey. The 6.0 magnitude quake was strong enough to sway buildings in Tokyo, though there were no reports of injuries or damage.

The death toll from last Friday’s quake and the tsunami that then swept over the east coast of Japan continues to rise.

In the latest official figures, 3,676 are confirmed dead and 7,558 were missing. Millions of people in the country remain without water, electricity, fuel or enough food, and hundreds of thousands are homeless as snow and freezing rain hit the northeast overnight.

On the stock exchange, Tokyo shares closed up 5.68 per cent Wednesday after a huge two-day selloff, as buyers were looking for bargains. Shares in Tepco, the operator of the damaged Fukushima power plant, fell 24.57 per cent.

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