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Japan's nuclear crisis unlikely to lead to another Chernobyl, U.N. expert says

The design and structure of Japanese nuclear power plants are different from the Chernobyl facility that unleashed a cloud of radiation in 1986, says International Atomic Energy Agency. Director-General Yukiya Amano. The differences, he says, decrease the chances that the earthquake damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex would lead to a Chernobyl scenario.

March 14, 2011|By Carol J. Williams | Los Angeles Times
  • A view of the sarcophagus covering the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine Feb. 2011.
A view of the sarcophagus covering the damaged fourth reactor at the Chernobyl… (Gleb Garanich / Reuters )

Japan's earthquake-stricken nuclear facilities are unlikely to suffer the kind of catastrophic accident that occurred in Chernobyl 25 years ago, the Japanese director-general of the U.N.'s nuclear agency said Monday.

The design and structure of Japanese nuclear power plants are different from the Soviet-era facility where an April 26, 1986, explosion blew the roof off the northern Ukrainian complex's No. 4 reactor, unleashing a radiation cloud that swept across Europe and around the world.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Yukiya Amano told journalists in Vienna, where the U.N. agency has its headquarters, that it was "unlikely" that the situation at three reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex would escalate into a Chernobyl scenario.

Photos: Scenes of earthquake destruction

The agency also said on its website that Japanese authorities have reported "decreasing coolant levels" in the reactor core of the No. 2 reactor and that plant operators have begun injecting seawater to maintain cooling of the reactor core.

"Seawater injections into Units 1 and 3 were interrupted yesterday due to a low-level in a seawater reservoir, but seawater injections have now been restored at both units," the agency reported after the disruptions that occurred Monday morning local time in Japan.

Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has reported that about 185,000 residents were evacuated from the residential areas around the plants as a precautionary measure.

The IAEA said it had sent 230,000 units of stable iodine to evacuation centers as an additional precaution. Iodine can be used to help protect against thyroid cancer should those in the vicinity of the nuclear complex suffer radiation exposure.

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