WRAPUP 4-Japan’s TEPCO told to hurry to stop radiation leaks, tries bath salts

* Government demands quick action to avoid fouling sea

* Voters want coalition for better disaster handling

* Engineers try bath salts to trace leak

* Business sentiment turns negative after disaster

(Recasts with Edano call for prompt action, quotes)

By Yoko Kubota and Yoko Nishikawa

TOKYO, April 4 (Reuters) – Japan’s government on Monday told
the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to move
quickly to stop radiation seeping into the ocean as desperate
engineers resorted to bath salts to help trace a leak from one
reactor.

One official has warned it could take months before the
nuclear crisis caused by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami is
under control.

“We need to stop the spread of (contaminated water) into the
ocean as soon as possible. With that strong determination, we
are asking Tokyo Electric Power Co to act quickly,” Chief
Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference.

He warned that accumulating radiation from a leak that has
defied desperate efforts to halt it “will have a huge impact on
the ocean”.

In the face of Japan’s biggest crisis since World War Two,
one newspaper poll said that nearly two-thirds of voters want
the government to form a coalition with the major opposition
party and work together to recover from the massive damage from
the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Underlining the concern over the impact on the world’s third
largest economy, a central bank survey showed that big
manufacturers expect business conditions to worsen significantly
in the next three months, though they were not quite as
pessimistic as some analysts had expected. [ID:nL3E7F4006]

An aide to embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Sunday
that the government’s priority now was to stop radiation leaks
from the Fukushima nuclear plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of
Tokyo, and that the situation had “somewhat stabilised”.

“How long will it take to achieve (the goal of stopping the
radiation leaks)? I think several months would be one target,”
said Goshi Hosono, a ruling party lawmaker and aide to Kan.

BATH SALTS

In their desperation, engineers at plant operator Tokyo
Electric Power Co (TEPCO) have used anything to hand to
try to stop the leaks.

At the weekend, they mixed sawdust and newspapers with
polymers and cement in a so far unsuccessful attempt to seal the
crack in a concrete pit at reactor no.2, where radioactive water
has been flowing into the sea.

On Monday, they resorted to powdered bath salts to produce a
milky colour to help trace the source of the leak.

TEPCO is planning to put some sort of curtain into the sea
by the nuclear plant to try to prevent radioactive water
spreading further into the ocean. It has not decided what
material to use.

The government has said three of the six Fukushima reactors
were now generally stable. At least four will eventually be
scrapped but that could take decades.

en Japan’s crisis has rocked the nuclear industry and
the European Union said on Sunday it will affect the fight
against climate change as energy policies are reviewed.
[ID:nL3E7F3049]

Germany and Switzerland have said they will shut older
reactors or suspend approvals, China has suspended approvals for
new plants, and Taiwan is studying cutting nuclear output.

Japan may review its pledge to cut its 2020 greenhouse gas
emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels in the wake of the
Fukushima nuclear power plant crisis, Japanese media quoted a
senior environment ministry official as saying.

“It is true that our reduction target will be affected
significantly,” Hideki Minamikawa, vice minister for global
environmental affairs, was quoted by the Yomiuri newspaper as
saying. [ID:nL3E7F30F3]

PM UNDER PRESSURE

The 9.0 magnitude quake and tsunami left nearly 28,000
people dead or missing and Japan’s northeast coast a splintered
wreck. The world’s costliest natural disaster has hit economic
production and left a damages bill which may top $300 billion.

Prime Minister Kan is under intense pressure to steer Japan
through the crisis, but after three weeks many Japanese are
angry the humanitarian disaster seems to have taken a back seat
to the nuclear crisis.

Though criticised for his crisis management, voter support
for Kan’s government rose to 31 percent in a Yomiuri newspaper
poll, from 24 percent in a survey conducted before the quake.

Almost 70 percent of respondents, however, believed Kan was
not exercising leadership, 19 percent wanting him to step down
soon.

But in a signal that many ordinary Japanese were prepared to
dip into their own pockets to help, 60 percent said they would
accept a hike in taxes to help fund recovery from the triple
disaster.

There has been talk that Kan’s ruling Democratic Party of
Japan join forces with its main political opponent, the Liberal
Democratic Party (LDP). But so far there has been no sign the
two are close to any deal.

Kan last month invited LDP head Sadakazu Tanigaki to join
the cabinet as deputy premier for disaster relief, but he
declined.

MOVES TO STOP POWER BLACKOUTS

More than 163,710 people are living in shelters, with more
than 70,000 people evacuated from a 20 km (12 mile) no-go zone
area the nuclear plant. Another 136,000 people living a further
10 km out have been told to leave or stay indoors.

The government estimates damage from the earthquake and
tsunami at 16 trillion to 25 trillion yen ($190 billion-$298
billion). The top estimate would make it the world’s costliest
natural disaster.

Manufacturing has slumped to a two-year low as a result of
power outages and quake damage hitting supply chains and
production.

The Bank of Japan’s tankan business sentiment survey,
although negative, was not as grim as analysts had expected,
With some suggesting the results were not reliable.

“I think many firms will have filled out the surveys before
the quake and sent them after the quake, so this reading may be
misleading to gauge the impact of the quake,” said Masamichi
Adachi, senior economist at JPMorgan Securities Japan.

General Electric , which helped build the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear power plant will help TEPCO supply electricity
in the coming months when demand soars. [ID:nL3E7F304N]

Demand for power jumps in Japan in summer due to
heavy use of air conditioners. More than 168,500 households in
the north are still without electricity after the tsunami.

The government has said it will restrict maximum power use
by companies during the hotter months in an effort to avoid
further blackouts.

Japan’s health ministry said on Sunday it had detected
radioactive substances higher than legal limits in mushrooms
from Iwaki in Fukushima, said Kyodo.

“Grown in Fukushima” has become a warning label for those
nervous of radiation which has already been found in some
vegetables close to the nuclear plant.

(Additional reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro, Kiyoshi Takenaka
and Yoko Kubota in in Tokyo, David Fogarty in Bangkok; Writing
by Paul Eckert and Jonathan Thatcher)

WRAPUP 4-Japan’s TEPCO told to hurry to stop radiation leaks, tries bath salts