Nation/World


Attempt to plug leak fails at Japan nuclear plant

MONDAY, APRIL 4, 2011

A couple watch the site where coffins of victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami were buried in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, on Sunday. (Associated Press)
A couple watch the site where coffins of victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami were buried in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, on Sunday. (Associated Press)

TOKYO – Radioactive water continued to seep into the sea today after a failed attempt by the operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to seal the leak using an absorbent polymer, sawdust and shredded paper.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials think the leak has been coming from a concrete pit holding power cables near reactor No. 2, and today TEPCO said it would use a dye to try to trace the path of the leak, Kyodo news reported. Radiation levels in the pit water are an estimated 1,000 millisieverts per hour, a high but not immediately lethal dose.

Engineers also planned to begin injecting nitrogen gas into reactors 1, 2 and 3 in an attempt to prevent possible explosions from the buildup of hydrogen gas. Explosions at the three reactors in the first four days after the magnitude-9 earthquake and accompanying tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 badly damaged the reactor buildings and disabled the cooling pumps that provided water to the reactors. Government officials say it may take months to fully restore the cooling systems.

The official death toll from the disaster topped 12,000 on Sunday, as about 25,000 U.S. and Japanese troops finished an intensive three-day effort to recover bodies. The search located 78 corpses, but more than 15,000 people are still officially listed as missing. Some 160,000 survivors remain in shelters.

Japan’s Red Cross and the Central Community Chest of Japan have collected more than $1 billion but have yet to distribute any cash directly to victims, prompting Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano on Sunday to urge that the process be accelerated.

A Red Cross spokeswoman, Miyoko Kawamura, responded that the payments would likely start sometime in April.

The government has come under renewed pressure from groups including Greenpeace to expand its evacuation area, but at the same time, residents who vacated the 12-mile zone have been seeking permission to return to their homes briefly to gather personal items. Officials in recent days have not shown signs of moving in either direction, and Edano said Sunday the current order will last “a long time,” though he conceded it was “tough on residents.”

The chief cabinet secretary added that the government had checked the thyroid function of 900 children up to age 15 in two villages, Iitate and Kawamata, just outside the 18-mile perimeter and none was found to have been exposed to high radiation levels. High levels of radiation have been detected in the water and on grass in Iitate. Edano said it was the third time that the government had conducted tests on children in areas just outside the 18-mile zone.


 

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