WRAPUP 2-Japan nuclear struggle focuses on cracked reactor pit

* Cracked pit possible source of radiation leak

* Japan PM visits tsunami-hit village, enters rector zone

* Nuclear crisis enters fourth week, no quick solution
(Adds new measure to stop leak, latest figure for dead, missing)

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO, April 3 (Reuters) – Japanese officials grappling on
Sunday to end the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl
were focusing on a crack in a concrete pit that was leaking
radiation into the ocean from a crippled reactor.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) (9501.T: Quote, Profile, Research) said it had found a
crack in the pit at its No.2 reactor in Fukushima, generating
readings 1,000 millisieverts of radiation per hour in the air
inside the pit. [ID:nL3E7F2039]

“With radiation levels rising in the seawater near the
plant, we have been trying to confirm the reason why, and in
that context, this could be one source,” said Hidehiko
Nishiyama, deputy head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety
Agency (NISA), said on Saturday.

He cautioned, however: “We can’t really say for certain
until we’ve studied the results.”


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Picture, graphic packages: http://r.reuters.com/wyb58r


Leakage did not stop even after concrete was poured into the
pit, and Tokyo Electric is now planning to use water-absorbent
polymer to prevent contaminated water from leaking out into the

Officials from the utility said checks of the other five
reactors found no cracks.

Nishiyama said that to cool the damaged reactor, NISA was
looking at alternatives to pumping in water, including an
improvised air conditioning system, spraying the reactor fuel
rods with vaporized water or using the plant’s cleaning system.


As the disaster that has left more than 27,000 dead or
missing dragged into a fourth week, Prime Minister Naoto Kan
toured devastated coastal towns in northern Japan on Saturday,
offering refugees government support for rebuilding homes and

“It will be kind of a long battle, but the government will
be working hard together with you until the end,” Kyodo news
agency quoted him as telling people in a shelter in
Rikuzentakata, a fishing port flattened by the tsunami which
struck on March 11 after a massive earthquake.

Unpopular and under pressure to quit or call a snap poll
before the disaster, Kan has been criticised for his management
of the humanitarian and nuclear crisis. Some tsunami survivors
said he came to visit them too late.

Kan also entered the 20-km (12-mile) evacuation zone and
visited J-village just inside the zone, a sports facility
serving as the headquarters for emergency teams trying to cool
the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Operators of the plant are no closer to regaining control of
damaged reactors, as fuel rods remain overheated and high levels
of radiation are flowing into the sea.

Japan is facing a damages bill which may top $300 billion —
the world’s biggest from a natural disaster.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Friday the
Japanese economy would take a short-term hit and it could not
rule out further intervention for the yen. [ID:nEBE7DA00J]

The consequences for the world’s third largest economy have
already seen manufacturing slump to a two-year low. Power
outages and quake damage have hit supply chains and production.

Hundreds of thousands remain homeless, sheltering in
evacuation centres, as the death toll from the disaster rises.

Thousands of Japanese and U.S. soldiers on Saturday
conducted a search for bodies using dozens of ships and
helicopters to sweep across land still under water along the
northeast coast. The teams hope when a large spring tide recedes
it will make it easier to spot bodies.

Radiation 4,000 times the legal limit has been detected in
seawater near the Daiichi plant and a floating tanker was to be
towed to Fukushima to store contaminated seawater. But until the
plant’s internal cooling system is reconnected radiation will
flow from the plant.
(Additional reporting by Chizu Nomiyama, Yoko Kubota, Shinichi
Saoshiro in Tokyo and Damir Sagolj in Rikuzentakata; Writing by
Paul Eckert; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

WRAPUP 2-Japan nuclear struggle focuses on cracked reactor pit