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Workers at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima plant have now returned to the area in an attempt to to prevent a meltdown.
Engineers at the plant have been pouring water onto the plant’s devastated reactors for several days, after an earthquake measuring nine on the richter scale knocked out their cooling systems.
Another fire at the number four reactor is now under control, but eyewitnesses have reported seeing clouds of white smoke coming from the plant, and increasingly desperate measures to avoid a nuclear meltdown have seen authorities considering dropping boric acid into reactors from a helicopter.
Concern has now turned to the cause of the reactor fire, thought to have taken place in a storage pond for nuclear fuel. Officials have admitted that the water in the pool, used to keep the fuel cool, could be boiling. The resulting steam is seeing a release of radioactive material into the atmosphere, but should the water boil off to the extent that the fuel rods are exposed to the air, Japan would have a far more serious nuclear threat on its hands.
170 miles away, radiation levels in the capital Tokyo are reported to be slightly higher but not enough to threaten health, in stark contrast to those living nearer the plant who have been urged to either evacuate or stay indoors.
Governments worldwide are now reviewing their own nuclear programmes, with Germany temporarily shutting down seven of its reactors pending a safety review. 58 French reactors will be checked, and Vladimir Putin has announced a review of the future of the Russia’s atomic energy sector. In Europe the EU agreed to conduct stress tests on the continent’s power plants to determine whether they would be likely to survive tsunamis, quakes and terrorist attack.