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March 21st, 2011
04:45 PM ET

Smoke spews from 2 reactors at stricken Japanese nuclear plant

CNN Wire Staff

Tokyo (CNN) - Smoke spewed Monday from two adjacent reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a nuclear safety official said, setbacks that came despite fervent efforts to prevent the further release of radioactive materials at the stricken facility.

After 6 p.m., white smoke was seen emanating from the facility's No. 2 reactor, according to Hidehiko Nishiyama, an official with Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. About two hours earlier, workers were evacuated from the area around the No. 3 reactor after gray smoke began to rise from the wreckage of its steel-and-concrete housing, which was blown apart by a hydrogen explosion last week.

The No. 3 reactor has been the top priority for authorities trying to contain damage to the plant and stave off a possible meltdown. Its fuel includes a small percentage of plutonium mixed with the uranium in its fuel rods, which experts say could cause more harm than regular uranium fuels in the event of a meltdown.

Nishiyama said there was no evident explosion, spike in radiation or injuries at the No. 3 reactor. The smoke was coming from the building's southeastern side, where the reactor's spent nuclear fuel pool is located, but the origin of the smoke at either reactor was unknown.

The coolant pools contain spent fuel rods that still generate high amounts of heat. Authorities have been working to keep them full to prevent the rods from being exposed. The nuclear agency estimated that, between roughly 9 p.m. Sunday to 4 a.m. Monday, 1,170 tons of water were sprayed on the reactor and its fuel pool.

In Geneva, Switzerland, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that while signs of improvement at the site are evident, the plant "has been seriously damaged by flood water and is littered with debris."

"The crisis has still not been resolved, and the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant remains very serious," Yukiya Amano, the director-general of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, told its board of governors Monday after a visit to the site.

"Buildings have been damaged by explosions," he said. "There has, for the most part, been no electric power. Radiation levels are elevated. It is no exaggeration to describe the work of the emergency teams as heroic."

On the other hand, Amano told reporters, rising pressure inside the containment unit at reactor No. 3, a concern from the weekend, was down and power had been restored to some of the reactors.

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