Saying that a "potentially catastrophic situation" could be round the corner, the chief of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has told Congress that all the water has gone from one of the spent fuel pools at the Fukushima nuclear complex, ABC News reported.
"There is no water in the spent fuel pool and we believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures," the NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko told a Congressional hearing yesterday.
But, hours later the Japanese officials challenged his statement, denying that the pool was dry and said the situation at the Unit 4 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was stable.
Jaczko said the situation was also alarming at the Unit 3 of the complex where he said there was a crack in the spent fuel pool which could lead to loss of water in that pool too.
American experts say that spent fuel rods are kept in pools of water to prevent them from overheating and ultimately melting down.
They warned that the outer shell of the rod could also ignite with enough force to propel the radioactive fuel inside over a wide area.
"It would be hard to describe how alarming this is right now and that a suicide mission might not be enough to avoid disaster," ABC quoted a US official as saying.
To grapple with the situation, Jaczko has counselled the Japanese to widen the evacuation zone from the current 30 kms to 50 kms radius.
The TV channel said that US officials were alarmed at how the Japanese were handling the escalating nuclear crisis and fear that if American experts are not given control of the plant within the next 24 to 48 hours, the Japanese could have a situation that could be "deadly for decades".
The channel said that President Barack Obama had been briefed by nuclear experts on the Japanese crisis.
Quoting US officials, ABC said the Americans were urging the Japanese to get more people back inside in the crippled reactor buildings to cool down the reactor rods before they trigger a meltdown.
"They need to stop pulling out people....and step up with getting them back in the reactor to cool it. There is a recognition this is a suicide mission," the official said.