Workers engaged in sealing radiation leak crack

Tokyo/Fukushima: Japanese workers on Sunday struggled to block a crack leaking high radiation into the sea from a stricken reactor at the Fukushima nuclear plant, as the government said it may take several months before the situation at the quake-hit facility is brought under control.

The plant`s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), said two of its workers, who had been missing since the March 11 killer quake and tsunami crippled the nuclear power station, were found dead in the basement of a reactor`s building.

The workers, who were in their 20s, died of bleeding from multiple injuries about an hour after the quake struck the plant, it said, adding their bodies were found on Wednesday last.

It is the first time that TEPCO workers have been confirmed to have died at the plant, Kyodo news agency said.

Meanwhile, engineers were set to inject the polymeric water absorbent used for diapers into pipes leading to a pit connected to the No.2 reactor`s building, where a 12-inch crack had been found to be leaking radioactive water.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said the water is still flowing from the pit into the Pacific Ocean and that the rate of the leak remains unchanged despite TEPCO`s efforts to encase the fracture in concrete.

Highly radioactive water has been filling up the basement of the No.2 building and a tunnel-like underground trench connected to it. The water in the pit is believed to have come from the No.2 reactor core, where fuel rods have partially melted.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the nuclear regulatory body, said that pits from the plant`s other reactors have no similar cracks.

Workers have also been checking the condition of the embankment at the plant on the coast to find out other possible routes for radiation leakage into the sea, the agency said, the report said.

According to TEPCO, radioactive iodine-131 more than 10,000 times the legal concentration limit was detected in the water found in the pit.

The government said that several months may be required before radioactive particles` leak is stopped.

"If we apply methods considered to be normal, I believe that it will be something like that," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters, when asked whether several months would be required before the plant is brought under control.

"While it may not be feasible, we have been asking for other possibilities to be explored to shorten that period," Edano said.

He also said the government would review whether it is necessary to change the currently designated evacuation areas once experts finish analysing the latest data as more radiation monitoring samples have been collected in recent days.

Edano said authorities had examined the thyroid gland functions of around 900 infants and children living in municipalities near the plant and none of them showed signs of being affected by radiation.

Levels of radioactive materials have been skyrocketing in the sea near the nuclear power plant, fuelling concerns about the expansion of sea contamination and impact on fishery products, Kyodo said.

In addition to efforts to block the radiation- contaminated water leak, technicians were working to secure enough space at tanks to remove radioactive water that has been soaking the basement of the plant`s Nos. 1-3 reactors.

The stagnant water has been obstructing work to restore the vital cooling functions at the reactors.

Later, engineers would also connect pumps used to inject fresh water into the troubled reactors to an external power source, switching from emergency diesel generators, to stably pour in the coolant water, according to authorities.

Nishiyama said TEPCO would inject nitrogen into the containment vessel of the No. 1 reactor on Tuesday or later to help prevent the risk of more hydrogen explosions caused by overheating of the reactor.

Once the mission to block the radiation leakage by the absorbent is completed, TEPCO would try to move the radioactive water in the pit to storage facilities to be prepared at the plant, he said.

Meanwhile, authorities aim to encourage private firms to help them pay for reconstruction efforts given the expected massive cost involved in rebuilding the areas devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, government sources were quoted as saying by Kyodo.

Among projects being eyed is rebuilding of the tsunami-devastated Sendai Airport and the affected water and sewerage and gas and port systems, they said.

Over 12,000 people were confirmed dead in the March 11 twin disaster. The highest number of deaths was reported in Miyagi Prefecture — 7,318 — followed by 3,518 in Iwate Prefecture. Other deaths were reported in a wide area of east Japan, including 7 in Tokyo, national broadcaster NHK said.

Police said the number of missing people totalled more than 15,000.

Search operations have been suspended within the 20-km exclusion zone around the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant due to fears of contamination.

Thousands of Japan`s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel and US troops continued their efforts to search missing people in Pacific coastal areas on the final day of an intensive three-day search. They recovered 11 bodies today, bringing the total to 77 in three days.

In a collective evacuation, the town office of Minamisanriku, one of the coastal communities worst hit by the tsunami, sent around 500 residents to other municipalities in Miyagi Prefecture today. A total of about 1,100 people have so far accepted the town`s offer of evacuation.