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Japan's radiation leak: Shades of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl?

Scientists at a press conference for anti-nuclear power groups say the Japanese nuclear reactor crisis could get worse before it gets better. But other scientists say it's not yet clear whether the accident will become another Three Mile Island – let alone a Chernobyl.

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Video image taken from NHK shows the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant in Japan on Saturday March 12. The ceiling of the building that houses the No. 1 reactor collapsed Saturday, injuring 4 workers, Japan's public broadcaster NHK reported.

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Japan’s unfolding nuclear power crisis remains at an unstable, volatile stage, warn US nuclear experts who, while hopeful, say past nuclear accidents – at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl – grew far worse over several days before being controlled.

Their comments, which came during a Saturday conference call convened by anti-nuclear power groups, were in sharp contrast with reports by the Japanese government which appeared to indicate the main crisis in one of its nuclear reactors was past, although a state of emergency remained in effect for five reactors.

Japanese soldiers were reported pumping seawater into the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima I power plant 150 miles north of Tokyo, to keep it cool. But one US expert characterized the move as an apparent last-ditch “Hail Mary” effort that could easily fail and be followed by a major radioactive release.

An enormous explosion Saturday morning – possibly due to a buildup of hydrogen gas – destroyed most of a secondary containment building housing the No. 1 reactor, but was reported by a government spokesman not to have breached a critical inner steel liner – the reactor’s primary containment vessel.

On Saturday, the Japanese government reported five reactors at two different nuclear power plants – Fukushima I and Fukushima II – to be in a state of emergency following the massive earthquake that hit Japan Friday. A total of 11 of the nation’s 54 reactors shut down following the quake, knocking out about 30 percent of the nation’s power. Still, Japanese officials were matter-of-fact.

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