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Japan nuclear plant reactor fuel rods exposed

TOKYO, Mar 14 – The fuel rods in the number two reactor at a quake-damaged nuclear power plant in Japan are again "fully exposed", officials said early on Tuesday, boosting fears of an eventual partial meltdown.

Air pressure inside the reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, located 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Tokyo, rose suddenly when the air flow gauge was accidentally turned off, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said.

That blocked the flow of cooling water into the reactor, leading to full exposure of the rods at around 11pm Monday (1400 GMT), TEPCO said.

"We are not optimistic but I think we can inject water once we can reopen the valve and lower air pressure," a TEPCO official told reporters.

Japan has been grappling with a nuclear emergency since a massive earthquake and tsunami battered its northeast coast Friday.

The nuclear plants shut down automatically, as they are designed to do. But the loss of power in the area and tsunami damage to back-up generators apparently crippled reactor cooling systems.

Explosions created by hydrogen blew apart the buildings housing the number one and number three reactors, but did not pierce the reactors\’ steel and concrete containment vessel.

Chief government spokesman Yukio Edano said on Monday that radiation around the Fukushima plant was at a tolerable level for humans.

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