Nuclear safety officials say efforts to seal a crack in Japan’s damaged nuclear plant have failed and they are now trying to stem a flow of radioactive water with another method.
Nuclear safety spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama told reporters Saturday that the water could be leaking into the Pacific Ocean from a 20-centimeter crack in a maintenance pit on the edge of the Fukushima nuclear site.
Tokyo Electric Power Company poured concrete into the pit in an attempt to seal the crack, but the effort failed.
TEPCO said Sunday that engineers would inject a water-absorbent polymer into pipes in an effort to slow or stop the leak.
Also on Saturday, Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan set foot in the tsunami-devastated region for the first time, meeting workers in the nuclear exclusion zone and talking to residents made homeless by the March 11 disaster. Mr. Kan stopped in the fishing village of Rikuzentakata, where the town hall is one of the few buildings that was not leveled by the tsunami. He met with the town’s mayor, whose wife was swept away in the disaster and is still missing.
At a school-turned-evacuation center, Mr. Kan told evacuees that the government “fully supports you until the end” of the recovery process. But some displaced residents criticized Mr. Kan for taking three weeks to personally visit the devastated region. He had flown over the decimated area shortly after the wave hit.
The Japanese leader also visited a village serving as the headquarters for emergency teams trying to cool reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The United Nation’s atomic energy agency has warned that high concentrations of radioactive particles have spread outside the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the nuclear plant. The agency reported Friday that in one village, Iitate, some 40 kilometers from the plant, radiation levels are decreasing after spiking at levels substantially above the level at which they normally recommend evacuations.
Japan says it will be a “reasonably long” period of time before those evacuated from the nuclear-threat zone would be allowed back to their homes. Chief government spokesman Yukio Edano confirmed reports that the groundwater around the plant is contaminated with radiation many times higher than normal, and that testing on cattle had turned up a sample of low-level radioactive-contaminated beef.
Thousands of Japanese and American military personnel joined together Friday in a final three-day sweep to search for those still missing from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. More than 11,000 people are confirmed dead, with more than 16,500 still missing. But the search teams will stay out of the evacuation zone around the damaged plant.
Fukushima plant officials acknowledged Sunday that two workers had been killed when the tsunami first struck the facility. They said the bodies of the two had been recovered.