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Race to plug leak in reactor, as GE offers Japan help (VIDEO)


U.S. Marines helicopters queue on a runway cleared by Japanese Self-Defense Forces and US military at Sendai Airport, Miyagi prefecture on March 30, 2011. The nightmare of Japan's unfolding nuclear emergency is sending fear through the community that lives in the shadow of another coastal reactor. The U.S. airmen in a hulking C-130 Hercules cargo plane delivered containers of badly-needed fuel to Japan's tsunami-ravaged northeast as part of a massive military aid effort.


Yasuyoshi Chiba

Engineers at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant were struggling Sunday to stop contaminated water, which was seeping from a crack in the No. 2 reactor, from reaching the Pacific Ocean.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) said it was using an absorbent polymer to plug the gap after initial attempts to stop the leak by pouring concrete into the containment pit failed.

Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Japan Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency said the source of the radiation leak may have been found.

"Among the channels at the foot of reactor No. 2 in the electric cable pit, we found water that emitted radiation in excess of 1,000 millisierverts per hour," he said, according to Xinhua. "There was also a 20 centimeter crack in the concrete at the base of the pit and we found that the water was leaking out to the sea through this crack."

The safety agency has reportedly said that the long-term risk of cancer can be increased by exposure to 500 millisieverts of radioactivity over a short period of time; tests of the air above the crack revealed 1,000 millisieverts of radioactivity an hour.

But nuclear safety experts say radiation is quickly being diluted by the Pacific Ocean and that even large amounts pose little threat. Tepco will also use a mega-float to restore the tainted water, Xinhua reported.

Meanwhile, the head of General Electric, which helped build the Fukushima reactors, said the company would help the plant's operator supply electricity when power demand soars across heavily populated cities in the coming summer months.

Reuters reported that GE chief executive Jeff Immelt met with Tepco officials, and that afterward an official from Japan's biggest utility said: "Immelt said GE would cooperate with Tepco on restarting and strengthening its thermal power generation in anticipation of the rise in power demand for the summer. As one of the manufacturers [of the reactors], he wanted to say GE wants to provide ideas to help resolve the situation."

GE has said it will offer technical assistance to the Japanese government and Tepco by mobilizing more than 1,000 engineers of Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, a joint venture of the two companies, Kyodo News International reported. GE has reportedly also offered to provide 10 gas turbine generators at the request of Tepco.

Immelt and Hitachi president Hiroaki Nakanishi will meet Monday with Japanese industry minister Banri Kaieda to offer support to Tokyo in tackling the ongoing emergency, KNI reported.

Meanwhile, the bodies of two workers killed by the tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima plant three weeks ago have reportedly been decontaminated and returned to their families, the BBC reported.

According to Tepco, the bodies of Kazuhiko Kokubo, 24, and Yoshiki Terashima, 21 were found March 30 in the basement of the turbine building of reactor No. 4.

More than 60 bodies have been recovered over the past two days, according to the BBC, while more than 16,000 people remain unaccounted for.

A search operation is continuing along the coast on land and at sea.

— Freya Petersen