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Japan hopes to restore power at two crippled reactors Friday

(Reuters) - Japanese engineers raced to restore a power cable to a quake-ravaged nuclear power plant on Friday in the hope of restarting pumps needed to pour cold water on overheating fuel rods and avert a catastrophic release of radiation.

Officials said they hoped to fix a cable from the grid to at least two of the six reactors on Friday, but that work would stop in the morning to allow helicopters and fire trucks to resume pouring water on the Fukushima Daiichi plant, about 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

Even if the engineers manage to connect the power, it is not clear the pumps will work as they may have been damaged in the earthquake or subsequent explosions and there are real fears of the electricity shorting and causing another explosion.

"Preparatory work has so far not progressed as fast as we had hoped," an official of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) told a news briefing, adding that engineers had to be constantly checked for radiation levels.

Washington and other foreign capitals have expressed growing alarm about radiation leaking from the plant, severely damaged by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami a week ago that triggered a series of destructive explosions and compromised the nuclear reactors and spent fuel storage tanks.

Worst case scenarios would involve millions of people in Japan threatened by exposure to radioactive material, but prevailing winds are likely to carry any contaminated smoke or steam away from the densely populated Tokyo area to dissipate over the Pacific ocean.

Nuclear agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said the priority was to get water into the spent fuel pools. He was unsure how effective the helicopters had been inn cooling the reactors.

"As to what we do beyond that, we have to reduce the heat somehow and may use seawater," he told a news conference. "We need to get the reactors back online as soon as possible and that’s why we’re trying to restore power to them."

Asked about the “Chernobyl solution” of burying the reactors in sand and concrete, he said: “That solution is in the back of our minds, but we are focused on cooling the reactors down.”

Japan’s nuclear disaster is the world’s worst since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the crisis posed no risk to any U.S. territory. He nevertheless ordered a comprehensive review of domestic nuclear plants.

"We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States, whether it’s the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska, or U.S. territories in the Pacific," Obama said. "That is the judgment of our Nuclear Regulatory Commission and many other experts."

Yukiya Amano, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was due back in his homeland later on Friday with an international team of experts after earlier complaining about a lack of information from Japan.

Graham Andrew, his senior aide, called the situation at the plant “reasonably stable ” but the government said white smoke or steam was still rising from three reactors and helicopters used to dump water on the plant had shown exposure to small amounts of radiation.

"The situation remains very serious, but there has been no significant worsening since yesterday," Andrew said.

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