Japanese Death Toll Rises, Nuclear Crisis Not Resolved

TOKYO, Japan, April 3, 2011 (ENS) – The death toll is rising in the massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Honshu island as emergency workers reach remote areas and now totals 27,639. The National Police Agency said Saturday that the number of people killed now stands at 12,087 and the number of those reported missing is 15,552. Highly radioactive water is still spilling into the Pacific Ocean near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said it has pinpointed the source of the leak as a crack in a concrete pit where supply cables are stored near the water intake channel of Unit 2 reactor.

Aerial view of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

The company has injected fresh concrete into the pit, in an unseccessful attempt to stop the spill. “We could not observe a reduction in the amount of water spilling from the pit to the sea,” TEPCO said in a statement. The company is now trying injections of a polymer to stop the leak, saying, “Necessary equipment and experts of water shutoff will be dispatched to the site and after checking the condition, we’re doing continuous work to stop water by injecting polymer.” Four of the six Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors were damaged after power loss to the plant during the quake and tsunami incapacitated their cooling systems. Nuclear fuel was exposed to the air, causing hydrogen explosions in two of the reactors and a partial meltdown of the fuel in at least one reactor. The damaged nuclear fuel has been releasing radioactivity to air, sea and soil. “Extremely low levels” of radioactive iodine-131 was detected in the air over some areas of the 31 provincial-level regions of the Chinese mainland Sunday, the state news agency Xinhua reports. Trace levels of radioactive isotope cesium-137 and -134 were also detected in the air in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Shandong, Henan, Guizhou and Ningxia Sunday. But they pose no threat to public health or to the environment, said an official statement by China’s National Nuclear Emergency Coordination Committee. “Very low levels” of radiation from the Japanese nuclear plant have also been measured on the U.S. mainland. Precipitation samples collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the states of California, Idaho and Minnesota showed “very slightly elevated levels of radiation,” the agency said. The Japanese government expects that it could be months before radioactivity stops being released from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, its chief spokesman said Sunday. “If we apply methods considered to be normal, I believe that it will be something like that,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference, when asked whether several months would be needed before the damaged nuclear power plant is brought under control.

Damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor plant.

Prime Minister Natao Kan said in an address to the nation Friday, “We have redoubled our efforts to stabilize the situation of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in collaboration with experts, but we have not reached the stage yet that sufficient stabilization has been developed. I believe that we can surely bring the situation under control.” Goshi Hosono, a special adviser to the Prime Minister, said today that the government has set a target of “several months” for the release of radioactive substances from the plant to be stopped. “What will follow that stage is the goal of stabilizing the plant by installing a perfect cooling mechanism for the reactors,” Hosono told a Fuji TV news program. He also said the government will set separate time frames for halting the release of radioactive materials into the atmosphere, seawater and soil. Edano said the government will review whether it is necessary to change the currently designated areas once experts finish analyzing the latest data as a larger number of radiation monitoring samples have been collected in recent days. He said authorities have examined the thyroid gland functions of around 900 infants and children living in municipalities near the plant. But he said none of them, ranging from under the age of one to 15 years old, showed signs of being affected by radiation. Edano said the government would establish a “highly independent” panel to investigate the nuclear crisis once the emergency situation has been resolved. The tsunami that hit a coastal city in Iwate Prefecture after the March 11 earthquake is estimated to have reached 37.9 meters (124.3 feet) in height, according to a field survey by a researcher at the University of Tokyo reported Sunday. Yoshinobu Tsuji, associate professor at the university’s Earthquake Research Institute, checked the drift displacement from a port in the district and found that lumber from the port had reached the slope of a mountain some 200 meters away from the coast. Tsuji calculated the height of the tsunami from the points at which the lumber was found. The team also found fire engines and fishing boats washed away to the nearby points.

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