WRAPUP 1-Japan expands nuclear evacuation, stops radiated water dumping

* High radiation forces extention of evacuations

* TEPCO finishes release of radioactive water into sea

* No end in sight to month-long nuclear crisis

By Yoko Kubota and Yoko Nishikawa

TOKYO, April 12 (Reuters) – Japan expanded the evacuation
zone around a crippled nuclear plant to avoid exposing residents
to high levels of accumulated radiation, as the struggle to
contain the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl entered its
second month.

The operator of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear
complex said it had stopped the discharge of low-level
radioactive water into the sea that had drawn complaints from
neighbouring China and South Korea.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, TEPCO, said 10,400 tonnes
of low-level radioactive water, left by the tsunami, had been
pumped back into the sea in order to free up storage capacity
for highly contaminated water from the reactors.

On Monday, shortly after Japan marked one month since a
March 11 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear disaster,
a huge aftershock shook a wide swathe of eastern Japan, killing
two people, and knocking out power to 220,000 households.

The epicentre of Monday’s magnitude 6.6 tremor, which was
followed by more than 25 aftershocks, was 68 km (90 miles) east
of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex at the centre of the
crisis.

The government announced earlier that because of accumulated
radiation contamination, it would encourage people to leave
certain areas beyond its 20 km (12 mile) exclusion zone around
the plant. Thousands of people could be affected by the move.

Children, pregnant women, and hospitalised patients should
stay out of some areas 20-30 km from the nuclear complex, Chief
Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

“These new evacuation plans are meant to ensure safety
against risks of living there for half a year or one year,” he
said. There was no need to evacuate immediately, he added.

The move comes amid international concern over radiation
spreading from the six damaged reactors at Fukushima, which
engineers are still struggling to bring under control after they
were wrecked by the 15-metre tsunami on March 11.

TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu visited the area on Monday
for the first time the disaster. He had all but vanished from
public view apart from a brief apology shortly after the crisis
began and has spent some of the time since in hospital.

“I would like to deeply apologise again for causing physical
and psychological hardships to people of Fukushima prefecture
and near the nuclear plant,” said a grim-faced Shimizu.

Dressed in a blue work jacket, he bowed his head for a
moment of silence with other TEPCO officials at 2:46 p.m. (0546
GMT), exactly a calendar month after the earthquake hit.

Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato refused to meet him, but the
TEPCO boss left a business card at the government office.

RADIOACTIVE WATER

Engineers at the plant north of Tokyo said they were no
closer to restoring the plant’s cooling system, which is
critical to bring down the temperature of overheated fuel rods
and to bringing the six reactors under control.

In a desperate move to cool the highly radioactive fuel
rods, TEPCO has pumped water onto reactors, some of which have
experienced partial meltdown.

But the strategy has hindered moves to restore the plant’s
internal cooling system as engineers have had to focus on how to
store 60,000 tonnes of contaminated water.

Engineers are also pumping nitrogen into reactors to counter
a build-up of hydrogen and prevent another explosion sending
more radiation into the air, but they say the risk of such a
dramatic event has lowered significantly since March 11.

The triple disaster is the worst to hit Japan since World
War Two, leaving nearly 28,000 dead or missing and rocking the
world’s third-largest economy.

Concern at the government’s struggle to handle the situation
is mounting, with Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s ruling party
suffering embarrassing losses in local elections on Sunday.

Voters vented their anger at the government’s handling of
the nuclear and humanitarian crisis, with Kan’s ruling
Democratic Party of Japan losing nearly 70 seats in local
election. [ID:nL3E7FA09V]

There is talk of forming a grand coalition of mainstream
parties to tackle the massive task of recovery from the
disaster. But the leader of one potential coalition partner said
Sunday’s polls made Kan’s party unattractive.

“The people are saying the government has been handling the
disaster badly. Joining hands with such a party … is not what
the people are hoping for,” New Komeito head Natsuo Yamaguchi
told Reuters in an interview. [ID:nL3E7FB1TN]

The unpopular Kan was already under pressure to step down
before March 11, but analysts say he is unlikely to be forced
out during the crisis, set to drag on for months.
($1=85.475 Japanese yen)

(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Kazunori Takada
in Tokyo; Writing by Paul Eckert; Editing by Andrew Marshall)

WRAPUP 1-Japan expands nuclear evacuation, stops radiated water dumping