TOKYO, April 16 (UPI) -- Nuclear experts in Japan say it could take up to three months to end the disaster at the earthquake- and tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant.
Takashi Sawada, deputy director of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, said in a CNN report Saturday it would take two or three months to restore cooling systems at the damaged reactors.
The plant's coolant systems were damaged by the March 11 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami, resulting in a near meltdown and causing a nuclear accident on par with that at Chernobyl, in the former Soviet Union, officials said.
The nuclear plants are owned and operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., which said it is too soon to provide a timeline for ending the crisis.
"We are trying to do our utmost at this moment," a company official told CNN.
Meanwhile, Tetsuro Fukuyama, Japan's deputy chief cabinet secretary, said an evacuation zone around the stricken plant will be enlarged to include the residents of the village of Iitate.
"I apologize from the bottom of my heart for causing dismay, concern and anxieties," Fukuyama told residents at a town meeting.
Kyodo News said the original evacuation zone extended from a 12-mile radius from the plant.
Sawada's organization comprises nuclear engineers and other experts. It published a report that said the zirconium alloy sheaths surrounding the reactor's fuel rods ruptured in three units, sending molten uranium to the bottom of the reactor cores.
The pellets are believed to have cooled and solidified at the reactor bases, the report said.