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Updated: March 15, 2011 06:14 IST

Meltdown threat after hydrogen blast at Japanese nuclear plant

AP
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In this image made off Japan's NTV/NNN footage, smoke ascends from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant's Unit 3 in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, on Monday. Photo: AP
In this image made off Japan's NTV/NNN footage, smoke ascends from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant's Unit 3 in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northern Japan, on Monday. Photo: AP

Water levels dropped precipitously on Monday inside a stricken Japanese nuclear reactor, twice leaving the uranium fuel rods completely exposed and raising the threat of a meltdown, hours after a hydrogen explosion tore through the building housing a different reactor.

Water levels were restored after the first decrease but the rods remained exposed late Monday night after the second episode, increasing the risk of the spread of radiation and the potential for an eventual meltdown. The cascading troubles in the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant compounded the immense challenges faced by the Tokyo government, already struggling to send relief to hundreds of thousands of people along the country's quake- and tsunami-ravaged coast where at least 10,000 people are believed to have died.

A top official said the fuel rods in all three of the most troubled nuclear reactors appeared to be melting.

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