'48 Hours to Worse Than Chernobyl'

The Japanese have lost control, officials warn
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2011 2:02 AM CDT
Updated Mar 17, 2011 7:54 AM CDT
'48 Hours to Worse Than Chernobyl'
A Japan Self-Defense Force helicopter dumps water over the No. 3 unit of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power in a desperate bid to prevent a meltdown.   (AP Photo/NHK TV)

Officials around the world are increasingly concerned that Japan's mounting nuclear disaster is out of control. "It would be hard to describe how alarming this is right now," an American official tells ABC News. He warns that unless Japan can get all of its crippled nuclear plants under control, the resulting catastrophe will be "deadly for decades." Japanese military helicopters are today dumping tons of seawater on the plant in a desperate bid to avert a nuclear meltdown, but CBS News notes that TV footage shows the wind apparently causing much of the water to disperse. Australia's ABC News adds that the last-ditch attempt to cool the reactors appears to have had no major effect, with only two of the four drops hitting their mark.

The crisis hinges on the pools of water holding radioactive waste; so far, workers have struggled to cool the used nuclear-fuel rods in the pools, the Wall Street Journal notes, and the rods in at least two of the pools are exposed to the air. "The next 48 hours will be decisive," an official with France's Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety tells the Telegraph. "I am pessimistic because almost none of the solutions has worked." A French government spokesman warns: "In the worst of cases, it could have an impact worse than Chernobyl." The Japanese "have visibly lost control," he says. The French ecology minister adds, "The worst scenario is possible and even probable." Click for the US warning that Japanese authorities are downplaying the true extent of the danger. (More Japan stories.)

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