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Skeptics cast doubt on Fukushima status, even as Japan declares nuclear reactors 'stable'

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Hiro Komae/AP

(Read caption) Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda speaks during a press conference at his official residence in Tokyo on Friday. Noda told a government nuclear emergency meeting that 'The reactors have reached a state of cold shutdown' and are 'stable,' reports Reuters.

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The Japanese government announced that the Fukushima nuclear complex, heavily damaged by the March 11 tsunami in the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, is now stable.  But serious doubts remain about Fukushima's status, as officials remain unable to confirm the status of the reactors' fuel and an undercover report impugns the clean-up efforts' efficacy.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a government nuclear emergency meeting that "The reactors have reached a state of cold shutdown" and are "stable," reports Reuters.  Mr. Noda and his environment and nuclear crisis minister, Goshi Hosono, both said that the situation at the plant is under control, though the clean-up may still take decades.  The Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which operates the reactor and has been leading the clean-up, had been attempting to achieve cold shutdown before the end of the year.

The state of "cold shutdown" means that the water used to cool the nuclear fuel rods in the reactors is at a temperature below boiling, thereby preventing the fuel rods from overheating and emitting excessive radiation. The Japan Times reports that government officials said that the temperatures of the lower portions of the rods' containment vessels measure 38.9 degrees C in reactor 1, 67.5 degrees in reactor 2, and 57.4 degrees in reactor 3.  "If the authorities are correct and cooling of the reactors is stable, it would be an important milestone in ending the world's worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis," writes the Times.

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