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Fukushima engineers make progress in the race to cool reactors

Engineers have attached an electricity line to a reactor at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant. They hope to restore power to the plant's cooling system to keep fuel rods from causing a nuclear meltdown.

the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant on Friday, March 19

The Fukushima plant was damaged by the tsunami

Japanese emergency teams said reactor number two at the troubled Fukushima nuclear power plant was successfully connected to a power cable on Saturday but added that electricity was not yet flowing through the cable. Power also still needs to be restored at reactors one, three and four.

Engineers need to get power restored to water pumps in four of the plant's six reactors to cool overheated fuel rods and prevent a full-blown nuclear meltdown.

A helicopter, carrying nurses to a town hospital from outside, flies over a wrecked building

Large swathes of northeastern Japan remain in ruin

Specially equipped fire trucks resumed water spraying operations at reactor three on Saturday in an effort to cool the fuel rods. Tons of water was showered on the reactor to put off the deadly spread of radiation, with some success.

"The situation there is stabilizing somewhat," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference.

Four of the reactors have been in danger of leaking dangerous amounts of radioactivity since a series of hydrogen explosions and fires struck the buildings housing the reactors.

Officials are also concerned about tanks containing spent fuel rods, which are still highly radioactive. The rods have to be covered with water to keep cool. If they overheat, they could start emitting high levels of radiation, experts say.

Ongoing efforts

Workers have had to be temporarily evacuated from the plant after radiation levels spiked as high as 1,000 millisieverts per hour. Experts said such a dose can cause radiation sickness.

Japanese government spokesman Yukio Edano announced Saturday that officials detected abnormal levels of radioactivity in milk and spinach in areas near the nuclear plant, but added that the foods pose no immediate threat to humans.

The contaminated milk was fournd more than 30 kilometers from the Fukushima No 1 nuclear power plant - outside the government's exclusion zone.

Trace amounts of radioactive iodine were also detected in tap water in Tokyo.

The European Union, along with several Asian nations, has called for all food imported from Japan to be screened for radioactivity.

Japan's nuclear safety agency upgraded the Fukushima emergency from a level four to a level five accident rating on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The increase indicates that the disaster has gone from "an incident with local consequences" to an "incident with wider consequences."

Municipal officials and others observe a moment of silence for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami

Japan observed a moment of silence on Friday

The agency's decision has put the crisis two steps below the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which reached level seven, the highest rating on the scale, and at the same level as the Three Mile Island accident in the United States in 1979.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan was reported to be sounding out opposition parties on establishing a government of national unity to deal with the crisis.

Exodus continues

The official death toll stood at more than 7,000 on Saturday, with over 15,000 people still missing. Meanwhile, foreign nationals continued to look for ways to leave Japan amid the ongoing fears of a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plant, which lies only 250 kilometers from the capital, Tokyo.

Foreign governments were advising their citizens to leave Tokyo and shun the northeast region. Many embassies, including the Germany's, have temporarily moved to Osaka, in southern Japan.

In a statement on its website, the World Health Organization cautioned against those in Japan self-medicating with iodized salt to protect against radiation as the salt does not contain enough iodine to protect against the effect of radiation.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg, Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, Darren Mara (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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