TOKYO – Engineers failed to seal a crack where highly radioactive water was spilling into the Pacific from a Japanese nuclear power plant incapacitated by last month’s earthquake-spawned tsunami, but said a search of the site found no other leaks today.
The wave has carved a path of destruction up and down the coast and is believed to have killed 25,000 people.
The first deaths at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant itself, though, were confirmed today by the operator. A 21-year-old and a 24-year-old were believed to be conducting regular checks at the complex when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit March 11.
“It pains me that these two young workers were trying to protect the power plant while being hit by the earthquake and tsunami,” Tokyo Electric Power Co. Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.
It was unclear why the men did not evacuate when the quake hit.
The bodies were not discovered until Wednesday and had to be decontaminated. The announcement was delayed out of respect for the victims’ families, TEPCO spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said.
Radiation has been spewing from the plant, leaking into the air, ground and sea. On Saturday, authorities discovered a crack from which radioactive water was spilling into the Pacific – the first time they identified a direct source of sea contamination.
A picture released by TEPCO shows water shooting some distance away from a wall and splashing into the sea, though the amount of water was not clear. The contaminated water will quickly dissipate in the ocean but could pose a danger to workers at the plant.
Pooling water at the nuclear complex – which is believed to ultimately come from the reactor cores – has repeatedly forced technicians to pull back and suspend their work.
After the massive tsunami knocked out power to the plant three weeks ago, cooling systems failed, and the reactors have been dangerously overheating since. A series of almost daily problems has led to substantial amounts of radiation leaking into the atmosphere, ground and sea in the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union.