WRAPUP 4-Leak found in reactor pit, Japan PM tours disaster zone

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

* Nuclear crisis enters fourth week, no quick solution

* IMF warns economy to be hit by quake, possible yen
intervention

* Cracked concrete pit might be source of radiation leak

(Updates with discovery of a cracked pit at Fukushima)

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO, April 2 (Reuters) – Japan’s prime minister made his
first visit to the country’s tsunami-devastated region on
Saturday as the operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear
complex said it had found radioactive water leaking into the sea
from a cracked concrete pit.

In a discovery regulators said might explain the radioactive
water that has hobbled efforts to quell Japan’s nuclear crisis,
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said the radiation in
the pit at its No.2 reactor in Fukushima measured 1,000
millisieverts per hour. [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.

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

TEPCO is preparing to pour concrete into the pit to stop the
leak, added Nishiyama.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan spoke with refugees living in a
makeshift camp in the fishing village of Rikuzentakata, levelled
by the tsunamis which struck on March 11 when Japan was rocked
by a massive earthquake, leaving 28,000 dead and missing.

“It will be kind of a long battle, but the government will
be working hard together with you until the end. I want everyone
to do their best, too,” Kan told one survivor in a school that
was now an evacuation shelter.

Despite its tsunami seawalls, Rikuzentaka was flattened into
a wasteland of mud and debris and most of its 23,000 residents
killed or injured, many swept away by the waves.

“A person that used to have a house near the coast told me
‘Where am I supposed to build a house after this?’, so I
encouraged this person and said the government will provide
support until the end,” Kan told reporters.

Unpopular and under pressure to quit or call a snap poll
before the disaster, Kan has been criticised for his management
of Japan’s humanitarian and nuclear crisis and his leadership
remains in question.

“There are some evacuation centres that lack electricity and
water. There are people who can’t even go look for the dead. I
want him to pay attention to them,” said Kazuo Sato, a
45-year-old fisherman.

Kan later 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.

ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES

After three weeks, operators of the plant are no closer to
regaining control of damaged reactors, as fuel rods remain
overheated and high levels of radiation flow into the sea.

TEPCO, Asia’s largest power company, has seen its shares
lose 80 percent – $32 billion in market value – since the
disaster.

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 IMF is set to cut its 2011 forecast for Japanese growth
when it unveils updated figures on April 11 in its World
Economic Outlook, said IMF Japan mission chief Mahmood Pradhan.

Japan’s central bank is expected to revise down its economic
assessment when it meets on April 6-7 in the wake of the crisis.

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.

There has been growing talk of a coalition between the
ruling Democratic Party of Japan (LDP) and the main opposition
Liberal Democratic Party to tackle the aftermath of the crisis.

But there has been no agreement and the Yomiuri newspaper
said opposition parties would likely insist Kan step down first.

The government has already been battling the opposition to
get laws in place to make the new budget, from April 1,
workable. Kan wants an extra budget soon for reconstruction
which would also need help from opposition parties to function.

RADIATION BATTLE CONTINUES

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.

“We are trying to employ as many measures as possible (to
put the plant under control). We are holding high hopes (for
this storage),” said a TEPCO official.

In its attempt to bring the plant under control, TEPCO is
looking for “jumpers” — workers who, for payment of up to
$5,000 a shift, will rush into highly radioactive areas to do a
quick task before racing out as quickly as possible.

“My company offered me 200,000 yen ($2,500) per day,” one
subcontractor, unidentified but in his 30s, told Japan’s Weekly
Post magazine. “Ordinarily I’d consider that a dream job, but my
wife was in tears and stopped me, so I declined.”

TEPCO was also spraying resin onto radioactive dust in an
attempt to stop it from being carried in the wind.

“We sprayed 2,000 litres over 500 square metres of land. We
plan to evaluate the result of the test spraying on April 2nd
and 3rd. It takes about 24 hours for this scattering-prevention
solution to get dried,” said the official.

It could take years, possibly decades, to make safe the area
around the plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

With its president, Masataka Shimizu, in hospital, an
enormous compensation bill looming and mounting criticism of
both its handling of the crisis and prior safety preparations,
TEPCO may need state help, according to media reports.

Kan has all but ruled out nationalising TEPCO but some sort
of injection of public funds looks inevitable.

Standard & Poor’s on Friday cut its long-term rating on
TEPCO by three notches to “BBB+”, in its second downgrade on the
electric utility in as many weeks.

(Additional reporting by Terril Jones in Tokyo, Damir Sagolj in
Rikuzentakata and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by
Michael Perry; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Ron Popeski)

WRAPUP 4-Leak found in reactor pit, Japan PM tours disaster zone