Japan makes progress to avert N-crisis

Tokyo: Japanese engineers on Sunday made little progress in their efforts to avert a nuclear crisis as they resumed dousing the Fukushima atomic power plant in northeastern Japan after few hours break, even as the toll in quake-stricken country crossed 20,000.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which owns and runs the plants, said the efforts are being made by the engineers to restore electricity to reactors at the plant, but it was difficult to revive the reactors` cooling systems within the day.

It said the imminent task of cooling the overheating spent fuel pools by throwing thousands of tons of water at the No. 3 and No. 4 reactor buildings appear to be continuing relatively smoothly.

The company yesterday said the engineers were able to connect power cables to the No 1 and No 2 reactor buildings so as to cool down the overheating spent fuel.

"I think the situation is improving step by step," Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama told a news conference.

In the morning, the Ground Self-Defense Force shot water at the No. 4 unit spent fuel pool for the first time, with the amount of water totaling about 80 tons. The mission lasted for nearly one hour, Kyodo news agency reported quoting Defence Ministry officials.

The move came after the Tokyo Fire Department shot water into a spent-fuel storage pool at the No. 3 reactor in an overnight operation that lasted more than 13 hours.

Around 2,000 tons of water is believed to have been poured into the No. 3 reactor pool, exceeding its capacity of 1,400 tons. Fuel rods used at the reactor were plutonium- uranium mixed oxide fuel, known as MOX, said to be harder to control than normal fuel rods made from uranium.

The radiation level about 0.5 kilometer northwest from the No. 2 reactor dropped to 2,579 microsievert per hour today, compared from 3,443 microsievert per hour yesterday, TEPCO said.

In Tokyo, Japan`s Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency told reporters that the pressure in the No. 3 reactor`s containment vessel is increasing and that it would like to take steps to address the situation "swiftly." But Tokyo Electric said later that it would not immediately take the step to reduce the pressure, Kyodo said.

Meanwhile, the National Police Agency today said that the number of people who have been confirmed dead or listed as missing after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan has surpassed 20,000.

Miyagi prefectural police chief Naoto Takeuchi said he sees the need to secure facilities to accommodate over 15,000 bodies in the prefecture, the Jiji press reported, saying the remark suggests a sharp increase in the overall death toll.

The number of deaths stands at 8,133, while 12,272 people were unaccounted for, it said.

The death toll stood at 4,882 in Miyagi, the highest among the 12 prefectures. Miyagi was followed by Iwate Prefecture with 2,525 and Fukushima Prefecture with 670.