Japan's efforts to plug reactor leak fail


Tsunami survivor Chieko Matsukawa holds up her daughter's graduation certificate, which she found in the debris in Higashimatsushima, Miyagi prefecture, on April 3, 2011.


Yasuyoshi Chiba

The Japanese government said Sunday it will take several months to bring the country's nuclear disaster under control as engineers worked to plug a leak at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.

A government spokesman, offering the first timetable for ending the disaster, said it will take months before the plant stops leaking radiation and its cooling systems are fully functional, and it will take years to clean up the area around the plant, the Associated Press reports.

"It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future," Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama, told the Associated Prees. "We'll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end."

Japan has struggled to address the nuclear accident and humanitarian crisis caused by a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated much of the northern part of the country on March 11 and knocked out the plant's cooling systems. The disaster killed more than 12,000 people; more than 15,000 remain missing.

Engineers worked this weekend at trying to stop highly radioactive water from seeping out of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and into the Pacific Ocean, but as of early Monday said they had failed to do so.

Workers discovered a crack in a containment pit near reactor No. 2 on Saturday that is suspected of being the cause for the water leakage.

The plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), first tried to use concrete to seal the crack, but that did not work. It then tried using an absorbent polymer mixed with shredded newspaper and sawdust to plug the apparent source of the water. That too failed to prevent leaking water, the Wall Street Journal reported.

About seven tons an hour of radioactive water is escaping the pit, the New York Times reported.

The inability to seal the crack is the latest in a string of problems and obstacles that have prevented workers from effectively bringing the plant under control. It is also the latest in a string of "stop-and-start repair efforts." Other issues, like flooding and power outages, have also taken longer to address than originally estimated, the Journal states.

Officials said they did not know why the new chemical mixture did not stop the leak, but that they will continue trying and added dye to the water Monday to determine where it was flowing.

Efforts to plug the leak come as the bodies of two workers killed by the tsunami were found at the plant, decontaminated and returned to their families.

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 15,000 people remain unaccounted for.

Here is a video on the debate in Japan over nuclear safety and energy.


-- Hanna Ingber Win