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Japan struggles to control earthquake-damaged nuke plant

Failure of multiple backup systems caused near-meltdowns

By
5:46pm, March 14, 2011

In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11, engineers are flooding three nuclear reactors with seawater in an effort to cool their radioactive cores and to prevent all of their nuclear fuel from melting down. Explosions have been recorded at two of the reactors, but do not seem to have breached the crucial inner containment vessels.

The grimmest situation is at the final reactor, where water stopped flowing temporarily on March 14, exposing the fuel rather than cooling it. Much now depends on the containment vessels that shield the highly radioactive reactor cores. Even a full meltdown does not necessarily mean that the reactors will release large amounts of radioactive material — as long as the vessels remain intact.

Officials are closely monitoring several reactors at the Fukushima facility, on the northeastern coast of Japan near where the magnitude-8.9 earthquake hit. There are two clusters of reactors at Fuku

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