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Japan Reactor May Be Stable Enough to Start Cleanup in Two Days

Efforts to cool reactors at Japan’s damaged Fukushima nuclear plant may have succeeded enough to start cleanup measures in two days, a U.K. professor said.

“In another 48 hours, it should be clear that the water and steam temperature is low enough to start other cleanup efforts,” said Roger Crouch, head of the School of Engineering at Durham University. “It appears it’s getting stabilized. The biggest challenge is to ensure they are replenishing the water that covers the fuel assemblies and ensuring the temperature of the water is sufficiently low.”

Cannons and helicopters were used to douse the plant yesterday as workers tried to stem radioactive pollution from the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Some water may have reached the No. 3 reactor, an official said. Engineers are working through the night to connect a power cable that may help get Fukushima’s cooling systems working again.

The threat of radiation spreading from the six-reactor plant has prompted the U.S. to advise citizens to consider leaving Tokyo, 135 miles (220 kilometers) to the south. The Japanese government has recommended a 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the plant.

“It’s very unlikely there will be significant levels of radiation beyond the zone,” Crouch said. “Even then, they should remain quite low.”

‘Very Serious’

The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said the situation at the three loaded cores -- reactors No. 1, 2 and 3 - - has been “relatively stable” in the last 24 hours. All three units are damaged and don’t have cooling, Director Graham Andrew said yesterday at a briefing in Vienna. The situation remains “very serious,” he said.

The more than 320 workers on the site may be hindered by damaged equipment, said Mark Hibbs, senior associate at the Nuclear Policy Program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Berlin.

“The measuring equipment itself may not be reliable due to stress in the reactor,” Hibbs said. “If that’s true, it significantly adds stress to personnel inside. The people who are managing it are doing God’s work. It’s inconceivable the scope and the danger of the challenge they face.”

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is working to fix cables to supply power to the reactor coolant system. The company said yesterday it would lay one kilometer of new line along a road, a company official told a press conference in Tokyo broadcast by NHK.

“The reconnection of the electricity supply is very good news, but it depends on there being water to pump and there being no major break in the pipes,” said Richard Wakeford, a professor at the University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute. “Whether you can supply enough water to the cooling ponds is very difficult to know.”

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