Click here to edJAPAN deployed military helicopters, high-pressure water cannons and fire trucks in an increasingly desperate attempt to cool an overheated nuclear complex as U.S. officials warned the situation was deteriorating.

While the choppers flew combat-style missions to dump batch after batch of seawater onto a stricken reactor, plant operators said they were close to finishing a new power line that could restore cooling systems and ease the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi complex on the country’s northeast coast.

The top U.S. nuclear regulatory official gave a far bleaker assessment of the crisis than the Japanese, and the U.S. ambassador warned U.S. citizens within 80 kilometers of the complex to leave the area or at least remain indoors.

The Japanese Government said it had no plans to expand its mandatory, 20-km exclusion zone around the plant, while also urging people within 30 kilometers to stay inside.

The Chinese Embassy in Tokyo said Thursday that one Chinese national was killed in Ishinomaki city, Miyagi Prefecture, when the quake-triggered tsunami hit the area last Friday.

The detailed information of the victim will not be released at the request of the bereaved family, the embassy said.

Four of the plant’s six reactors have faced serious crises involving fires, explosions, damage to the structures housing reactor cores, partial meltdowns or rising temperatures in the pools used to store spent nuclear fuel. Officials also recently announced that temperatures are rising in the spent fuel pools of the last two reactors.

Two Japanese military CH-47 Chinook helicopters began dumping seawater on the complex’s damaged Unit 3 on Thursday, defense ministry spokeswoman Kazumi Toyama said. The choppers dumped at least four loads on the reactor in just the first 10 minutes, though television footage showed much of it appearing to disperse in the wind.

Chopper crews were flying missions of about 40 minutes each to limit their radiation exposure, passing over the reactor with loads of 7,500 liters of water.

The dousing is aimed at cooling the Unit 3 reactor, as well as replenishing water in that unit’s cooling pool, where used fuel rods are stored, Toyama said. The plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said earlier that pool was nearly empty, which would cause the rods to overheat and emit even more radiation.

The storage pools need a constant source of cooling water. Even when removed from reactors, uranium rods are still extremely hot and must be cooled for months, possibly longer, to prevent them from heating up again and emitting radioaction.<p >

Pete Postlethwaite, a distinguished character actor with a remarkably craggy*, timeworn* face, was confirmed dead on Monday. He was 64.     Postlethwaite was part of a small coterie of British actors who came up together through the theater and found a measure of success in Hollywood. The group included Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson.

    Postlethwaite was recognizable for his piercing* eyes and prominent cheekbones, which gave him a rugged* look. He appeared in a wide variety of film and TV roles, with many British fans remembering his work in period dramas as well as his later Hollywood films.

    He had recently been seen in the critically acclaimed film “Inception” and had worked with Spielberg on “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Amistad” in performances that received an extravagant compliment. He drew high praise for his starring role in “Brassed Off” in 1996. He also played a vicious* crime boss in Ben Affleck’s “The Town,” released last year, and will be seen this year in “Killing Bono.”

circulated Sunday in the western state of Michoacan.

    In the one-page message, distributed by e-mail and in some cities door to door, the gang claims it will halt all crime activity during January to demonstrate that the cartel “is not responsible for the criminal acts federal authorities are reporting to the media.”

    Prosecutors have not verified the letter’s authenticity, according to an employee of the Michoacan bureau of the federal Attorney General’s Office who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

    The government says La Familia has been weakened by a recent string of arrests and deaths of top leaders.

    In another letter that circulated in November, La Familia purportedly offered to disband.

    Last month, gunmen torched vehicles across Michoacan and used them as barricades to block all entrances into the state capital of Morelia after federal police killed alleged La Familia leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez.

    La Familia has occasionally made public pronouncements seeking to convince the public that it is defending Michoacan against other drug gangs.

    Federal officials, however, say the cartel has terrorized the state with kidnappings, extortion, hundreds of murders, decapitations and drug trafficking.

    More than 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence nationwide since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on cartels after taking office in December 2006.

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