Russian nuclear authorities said a Chernobyl-type disaster was unlikely to happen at the stricken nuclear plant in Japan, but experts refused to rule out this scenario.

“There can be no replay of Chernobyl at the Fukushima nuclear plant,” said Sergei Novikov, official spokesman for the Russian nuclear corporation Rosatom. “The worst case scenario in Japan is what happened at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in the U.S. in 1979, where fuel melted down but stayed inside the reactor.”

The spokesman explained that at Chernobyl in 1986 it was the nuclear reactor that exploded sending clouds of radioactive material all over Europe, whereas at the Fukushima plant explosion was caused by overheated radioactive steam while the reactor appeared to be intact.

However, independent experts said there was still a risk of a Chernobyl-style catastrophe.

“If there was a fuel meltdown in the reactor active zone and the situation is not brought under control then the reactor may explode as in Chernobyl,” said Vladimir Slivyak of the Eco-Defence environment group.

“If the reactor is not cooled down in coming hours the situation may develop along the Chernobyl scenario, when a core meltdown caused a massive radioactive release,” agreed Chemistry Prof. Leonid Rikhvanov of the Tomsk Polytechnic University.

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