WRAPUP 1-Japan to stop pumping radioactive water into sea

* Beijing to closely monitor Japan’s nuclear actions

* China detects above-normal radiation in ships, aircraft,
cargo

* Govt says economy in “severe condition”, no quick recovery

By Yoko Kubota and Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO, April 9 (Reuters) – Japan expects to stop pumping
radioactive water into the sea from a crippled nuclear plant on
Saturday, a day after China expressed concern at the action,
reflecting growing international unease at the month-long
nuclear crisis.

“The emptying out of the relatively low radiation water is
expected to finish tomorrow (Saturday),” a Tokyo Electric Power
Co (TEPCO) official said late on Friday.

TEPCO is struggling to contain the worst atomic crisis since
Chernobyl, with its engineers pumping low-level radioactive
seawater, used to cool overheated fuel rods, back into the sea
for the past five days due to a lack of storage capacity.

China said it will closely monitor Japan’s actions to regain
control of the plant and demanded Tokyo provide swift and
accurate information on the crisis which began on March 11 when
a magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami struck.

“We hope that Japan will act in accordance with
international law and adopt effective measures to protect the
marine environment,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei
said in a statement on Friday.

China said it had detected 10 cases of ships, aircraft or
cargo arriving from Japan with higher than normal levels of
radiation since mid-March. [ID:nL3E7F81JE]

It said traces of radioactivity had been found in spinach in
three Chinese provinces, and state news agency Xinhua reported
trace levels of radioactivity detected in 22 provinces.

Japan also faces calls to revive its disaster-hit economy to
prevent a knock-on impact on the global economy.

G20 finance leaders will ask Tokyo for a plan to resuscitate
its economy as they see the economic damage from the earthquake
as a risk to global growth, Takatoshi Kato, a former IMF deputy
managing director, told Reuters in an interview on Friday.
[ID:nLME7DP00O].

The earthquake and tsunami left 28,000 people dead or
missing, and damaged six nuclear reactors north of Tokyo.

The world’s third largest economy is now in a “severe
condition”, the Japanese government said on Friday.

A major 7.1 aftershock on Thursday night rocked Japan’s east
coast, killing three people, injuring 141 others, and leaving
four million homes without power. It also prompted a brief
evacuation of workers from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear
plant.

TEPCO said there had been no damage to its plant, which
until two days ago was leaking highly radioactive water.

South Korea has also criticised Japan, accusing it of
incompetence for failing to notify its neighbours that it would
pump radioactive water into the sea.

“They should have given notice but didn’t, perhaps because
they just didn’t get around to think of it, but it is a question
of their incompetence,” Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik said in
answer to a question in parliament on Thursday.

ECONOMY REELING

Several countries have restricted food imports from Japan
over radiation fears and some South Korean schools have closed
fearing toxic rain.

Compounding Tokyo’s problems, Japan’s economy is reeling
from the worst disaster since World War Two and the disruption
to Japanese supply chains is reverberating around the world.

The world’s largest automaker Toyota Motor Corp
said it plans to idle some of its U.S. plants, while Honda Motor
Co Ltd has extended reduced U.S. production until April
22.

Power blackouts and restrictions, factory shutdowns, and a
sharp drop in tourists have hit the world’s most indebted
nation, which is facing a damages bill as high as $300 billion,
making it by far the world’s costliest natural disaster.

Many economists expect Japan to slip into recession this
year, and the central bank warned on Friday that power shortages
and supply disruptions will leave the economy weak for some
time.

“Japan’s economy is suddenly in a severe condition due to
the effects of the earthquake,” said the Cabinet Office after
releasing a survey of hotel and restaurant staff and taxi
drivers, showing a record fall in confidence to levels last seen
during the depths of the global financial crisis.

In an obvious sign of the downturn, taxis park in long lines
in central Tokyo each night, their drivers staying warm by
idling the motor as they wait forlornly for a fare.

Some ministers at Friday’s cabinet meeting called for an end
to a campaign of “jishuku” (self restraint) by ordinary people
that was adopted immediately after March 11 to cut fuel or
electricity use and discourage stockpiling of necessities.

The Tokyo area and regions further north make up half of
Japan’s economy, Nomura research shows. Thursday’s aftershock
forced two companies, including electronics giant Sony Corp
, to stop production due to power cuts.

However, Japan’s top automakers Toyota and Nissan Motor Co
plan to resume production at all domestic factories in
stages starting on Monday, although output levels will be at
half of original plans. [ID:nL3E7F81GD]

NO CHANGE IN RADIATION

The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), said there were signs of progress in stabilising
the Fukushima plant, though the situation remained very serious.

The agency said radiation in the region around the plant, as
measured by gamma dose rates, had peaked in the early days of
the crisis, and aside from a rise on March 22, had since fallen
to “a level very close to background”. [ID:nLDE736288]

Utility TEPCO said it was continuing to inject nitrogen into
one of its Fukushima reactors to prevent a repeat of last
month’s hydrogen explosions and resin spraying continued to
prevent radioactive particles on debris from spreading

“We are doing everything we can to bring the situation under
control. As for when (the situation will end) we are not at a
stage to give a time frame yet,” said a TEPCO official.

Officials say it could take months to bring the reactors
under control and years to clear up the toxic mess left behind.

The government has set up a 20-km (12-mile) exclusion zone
around the plant, banned fishing along much of the northeast
coast and set up evacuation centres for the tens of thousands
forced to leave their homes following the crisis.
($1=85.475 Japanese yen)

(Additional reporting by Mayumi Negishi, Yoko Nishikawa,
Kiyoshi Takenaka, Leika Kihara and Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo, Ben
Blanchard and Sui-lee Wee in Beijing, Jack Kim in Seoul; Writing
by Michael Perry; Editing by Andrew Marshall)

WRAPUP 1-Japan to stop pumping radioactive water into sea