Japan on ‘maximum alert’ over nuclear plant crisis

Japan said Tuesday it was on "maximum alert" over a crippled nuclear plant where radioactive water has halted repair work and plutonium has been found in the soil.

The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Japan’s northeast coast and left about 28,000 dead or missing also knocked out reactor cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, which has leaked radiation into the air and sea.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan conceded the situation at the coastal atomic power station remained "unpredictable" and pledged his government would "tackle the problem while in a state of maximum alert".

In a stop-gap measure to contain the crisis at the plant, crews have poured thousands of tons of water onto reactors where fuel rods are thought to have partially melted, and topped up pools for spent fuel rods.

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