Japan sees some stabilization in nuclear crisis

PUBLIC APOLOGY

Thousands living outside that danger zone but within a 30 km (18 miles) radius face dwindling supplies of heating fuel, food and water, heeding a government request to stay indoors and close all windows, doors and vents.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog says radiation levels outside the plant are safe. It said Japanese authorities have urged people in the area to ingest iodine, which can be used to help protect against thyroid cancer in the event of radioactive exposure.

The operator of the 40-year-old plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co, is facing mounting criticism in Japan, including questions over whether it hesitated too long before dousing the reactors with seawater, which permanently damages them.

Saturday, its president issued a public apology for "causing such great concern and nuisance."

Plant officials say a last resort, if all else fails, would be to bury the sprawling old plant in sand and concrete to prevent a catastrophic radiation release. The method was used at the Chernobyl reactor in 1986, scene of the world's worst nuclear reactor disaster.

Underlining their desperation, fire trucks sprayed water through much of Saturday, a day after Japan raised the severity rating of the nuclear crisis to level 5 from 4 on the seven-level INES international scale, putting it on a par with the Three Mile Island accident in Pennsylvania in 1979.

Some experts say it is more serious. Chernobyl, in Ukraine, was a 7 on that scale.

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