Operators of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant say water levels in the plant's number-one reactor are lower than originally thought.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said Thursday the problem became evident when workers finally were able to enter the building and adjust water gauges in the unit. The company previously thought the water was about one meter below the top of the nuclear fuel rods. Instead, it is actually below the rods - leaving them completely exposed.
A company manager told reporters that fuel pellets probably melted and fell, creating a hole at the bottom of the reactor vessel.
But officials say temperatures in the unit indicate the fuel is still being cooled. They say this shows that efforts to prevent it from overheating are working.
The Fukushima plant was crippled and shut down improperly after the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan two months ago.
TEPCO also said that workers on Wednesday discovered a new leak of highly radioactive water into the ocean next to the plant. They said the source of the water was found and the leak was sealed.
Radiation given off by the plant's damaged fuel rods has been largely contained by large concrete cases that surround the reactors, though some radiation has escaped into the atmosphere.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's cabinet on Thursday postponed a final decision on a plan to help TEPCO compensate individuals and businesses for financial losses suffered because of the nuclear disaster. Kan said he wanted to continue discussing the plan Friday.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.