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Video: Battle wages on to stave off nuclear meltdown

  1. Closed captioning of: Battle wages on to stave off nuclear meltdown

    >>> good evening. while the japanese deal with a staggering humanitarian crisis, they are now engaging in a last-resort effort to stop perhaps multiple meltdowns at nuclear reactors . and today president obama had to reassure the american public that these fears of some sort of radioactive cloud coming all the way across the pacific to the west coast just aren't true. here's the latest now on the disaster in japan. desperate measures now under way to lessen the nuclear disaster . while tonight japanese officials are saying they have rare good news of some levels stabilizing, first today we got the first look at the reactors close up. this new video of a helicopter fly-over showing the destruction. then there are the numbers. just under 5700 dead, just under 10,000 missing and over three-quarters of a million people surviving without electricity in near freezing cold. thousands of people, including americans, continue to flee japan. we begin our reporting on all of it tonight with nbc's robert bazell in tokyo. bob, good evening.

    >> reporter: brian, the international atomic energy commission is reporting that a power cable has been successfully brought to those reactors, and that will start to get pumps flowing water into the reactors. that's very encouraging news in this metropolis of 30 million people that has been downwind of those reactors, but the situation remains frightening. dramatic pictures on japanese television showed military helicopters dropping water on one of the damaged reactors. the water often missing its mark. the company that owns the plant said the drastic move which exposed the pilots to radiation was necessary, because unused fuel rods like these usually stored under deep water were at least partially exposed, vastly increasing the chance of a catastrophic release of radiation.

    >> these spent fuel rods had as much or more dangerous material in them than the fuel in the reactors.

    >> police began the water spraying operation in the evening but could not reach the building.

    >> reporter: in the next move, the company pumped water from military fire trucks , usually used to combat airplane fires, to shoot water from a safe distance. the entire operation is a race to get water into the severely damaged reactors before the fuel explodes. so far the radiation levels have been high enough to only be a serious threat to the workers at the site. still, the japanese government has ordered people living within 12 miles of the site to evacuate. those within 18 miles to stay indoors. the u.s. government says its residents within 50 miles should leave.

    >> we think it's a prudent measure to follow the evacuation based on how we would handle a situation like that in the united states .

    >> reporter: there are six reactors at the site. in unit 1 an explosion destroyed part of an outer building. in unit 2 there may have been an explosion rupturing the containment facility and possibly letting radioactive fuel escape. unit 3 was the target of today's water drops. it too had an explosion of the outer building and it also has exposed fuel rods. unit 4 was shut down for maintenance when the earthquake struck, but it became the subject of a controversy when the head of the u.s. nuclear regulatory commission said its stored fuel rods were totally exposed. units 5 and 6, which are also out of service, may also have problems with their used fuel rods. experts say unit 3 is especially dangerous, because it has recycled fuel that contains plutonium, an even greater health threat than the uranium in the other reactors. the first of that electricity, brian, will go to unit 2. unit 3 still needs to have that spraying, which will continue during the day, so the situation is not over yet, but it does look a little bit better for the first time.

    >> all right, bob bazell in tokyo to start us off. bob, thanks.

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