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New Fire Hits Japan Nuclear Plant

A new fire broke out Wednesday in an already fire-damaged reactor at a crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan.

In this handout images provided by the International Federation of Red Cross Japan, civil defense teams search for survivors March 15, 2011 in Otsuchi, Japan. After a third explosion Tuesday at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the government is telling people living within 20 miles to stay indoors with the windows closed because of the possibility of high levels of radiation being released from the plant.
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Above: In this handout images provided by the International Federation of Red Cross Japan, civil defense teams search for survivors March 15, 2011 in Otsuchi, Japan. After a third explosion Tuesday at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the government is telling people living within 20 miles to stay indoors with the windows closed because of the possibility of high levels of radiation being released from the plant.

This chart shows how that amount of radiation exposure compares to other exposures, such as from x-rays, CT scans and normal background exposure.

Above: This chart shows how that amount of radiation exposure compares to other exposures, such as from x-rays, CT scans and normal background exposure.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Hajimi Motujuku says the blaze erupted early Wednesday in the outer housing of the reactor's containment vessel. Fire fighters are trying to put out the flames. Japan's nuclear safety agency also confirmed the fire, whose cause was not immediately known.

It is the second fire to break out at the plant's reactor No. 4 in as many days. The first occurred Tuesday morning near a pool where spent fuel rods are left to cool. That fire and an apparent explosion damaged the reactor's roof, and there are concerns that the spent fuel rods are overheating.

Desperate plant operators are considering dramatic plans to stave off a meltdown in the reactor, including dumping water on it by helicopter. But plant operators are worried that the water wouldn't reach the fuel rods.

According to NHK television, officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co. decided a hole in the roof of the reactor was "dozens of meters" from the swimming-pool-like chamber where the spent fuel rods are overheating. So a helicopter dump, similar to putting out a forest fire, probably wouldn't reach the pool.

Moreover, officials say helicopters can't carry enough water to do the job. And Japanese defense ministry officials are worried about the safety of military personnel on the helicopters, according to Kyodo News.

TEPCO, which operates the Fukushima power plant, is still considering the use of high-pressure fire hoses to spray cooling water into the spent-fuel pool.

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