Update on Japanese earthquake, nuclear crisis

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March 18, 2011, 12:36 p.m. | World — by Associated Press

Japan's Self-Defense Forces's helicopter scoops water off Japan's northeast coast on its way to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi Thursday morning, March 17, 2011. Helicopters are dumping water on a stricken reactor in northeastern Japan to cool overheated fuel rods inside the core.
© AP

— ATTEMPTS TO COOL REACTORS: Military fire trucks spray seawater for a second day on the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in a desperate attempt to prevent its fuel from overheating and spewing dangerous radiation. A U.S. military fire truck joins six Japanese vehicles, but is apparently driven by Japanese workers. Japanese air force says some water appears to be reaching its target. — SEVERITY LEVEL OF ACCIDENT RAISED: Japan's nuclear safety agency raises the rating of the nuclear accident from 4 to 5 on a 7-level international scale, making it the same as the U.S. Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979. Four of the six reactor units at the Fukushima plant have experienced fires, explosions or partial meltdowns since last Friday's 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami knocked out power to cooling systems.

— IAEA CALLS ACCIDENT "EXTREMELY SERIOUS." The head of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency says authorities are "racing against the clock" to cool the complex and calls the accident "extremely serious."

— NEW POWER LINE NEARLY COMPLETE: The nuclear plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., hopes to finish laying a new power line to the plant on Friday to allow operators to restore cooling systems. But it is not clear if the cooling systems will still function.

— MOMENT OF SILENCE: Tsunami survivors observe a minute of silence at the one-week mark since the quake, which struck at 2:46 p.m. Many are bundled up against the cold at shelters in the disaster zone, pressing their hands together in prayer. The twin disasters have left thousands dead and missing. Hundreds of thousands are staying in schools and other shelters, as supplies of fuel, medicine and other necessities run short.

— IMPACT ON ECONOMY: The yen backs away from historic highs and Japanese shares rise after the Group of Seven major industrialized nations promises coordinated intervention in currency markets to support recovery from the disaster. The G-7 pledge comes a day after the yen soared to an all-time high against the dollar, possibly threatening Japanese exports. Japanese automakers, meanwhile, seek alternative parts suppliers to replace those knocked out by the earthquake, which forced most of the country's car production to a halt.
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