WRAPUP 5-Japan ready to stop pumping radioactive water into sea

* TEPCO apologises to Japan, neighbours over radiation

* Pumping of radioactive water into sea to end Sunday

* Beijing to closely monitor Japan’s nuclear actions

* PM to feel voter anger over nuclear crisis

(Updates with comment from NISA)

By Shinichi Saoshiro and Chikako Mogi

TOKYO, April 10 (Reuters) – Japan hopes to stop pumping
radioactive water into the sea on Sunday, which should help ease
concerns in neighbouring China and South Korea over the spread
of radiation from the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

But problems in restoring cooling systems at Japan’s
crippled nuclear plant, hit by a tsunami on March 11, mean more
contaminated water may eventually be pumped into the sea if the
complex again runs out of storage capacity.

Japan is struggling to regain control of the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear plant after a massive earthquake and tsunami
devastated its northeast on March 11, and is facing a major
humanitarian and economic crisis.

“We cannot say what the outlook is for the next stage,”
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a deputy director-general of the Nuclear and
Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) said on Sunday. “As soon as
possible we would like to achieve stable cooling and set a
course towards controlling radiation.”

China and South Korea have criticised Japan’s handling of
the nuclear crisis, with Seoul calling it incompetent,
reflecting growing international unease over the month-long
atomic disaster and the spread of radiation.

Japanese voting in local elections on Sunday are expected to
vent their anger over Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s handling of the
nuclear crisis, further weakening him and bolstering opponents
who will try force his resignation once the crisis ends. Results
of the vote are expected on Monday.

The unpopular Kan was already under pressure to step down
before the worst disaster to hit Japan since World War Two, but
analysts say he is unlikely to be dumped during the nuclear
crisis, which is set to drag on for months.

ANTI-NUCLEAR PROTESTS

In Tokyo, around 5,000 people took to the streets
in two separate anti-nuclear protests on Sunday. Some carried
placards reading ‘No More Fukushima’ and ‘No Nukes’; others
danced and played musical instruments. One group of
demonstrators marched to the offices of the operator of the
striken plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) .

TEPCO apologised on Saturday for the crisis.

“I would like to apologise from my heart over the worries
and troubles we are causing for society due to the release of
radiological materials into the atmosphere and seawater,” Sakae
Muto, a TEPCO vice president, told a news conference.

Radiation from Japan spread around the entire northern
hemisphere in the first two weeks of the nuclear crisis,
according to the Vienna-based Preparatory Commission for the
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation.

Japan’s economy, the world’s third largest, is reeling from
the triple disaster and several countries have banned or
restricted food imports after detecting radiation.

More critically, the nuclear crisis and power shortages have
disrupted Japan’s manufacturing and electronics global supply
chains, hitting computer and automakers in particular.

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
— the world’s biggest for any natural disaster.

The government had called for restraint from Japanese to
help the recovery effort, but families and friends were out in
force at cherry blossom viewing parties, traditional events that
herald spring, although some were toning down the usual
alcohol-induced revelry in deference to the disaster victims.

“It’s quieter than usual. There are lots of people but
they’re a bit subdued,” said one middle-aged woman, strolling
beneath the delicate pink blossoms. “The blossoms are in full
bloom for us and we should appreciate them,” she said.

RADIOACTIVE WATER

An unmanned drone helicopter is scheduled to fly over four
reactors to video damage and gauge radiation in areas where
workers are unable to safely enter. Remote-controlled trucks
will be used to remove some of the radioactive rubble.

Efforts to regain control of six reactors hit by the
15-metre high tsunami, which caused partial meltdowns to some
reactor cores after fuel rods were overheated, has been hindered
by 60,000 tonnes of radioactive water.

Japan’s Nuclear Industry and Safety Authority said efforts
to restore cooling systems were not making clear progress.

TEPCO wants to start moving some of the highly
contaminated water out of the way, a key step towards restoring
the critical cooling system.

“We may be able to use (electric) systems that are currently
functioning for cooling, and that may speed up the cooling
restoration. But there is no concrete and clear option,” said
NISA’s Nishiyama.

“It is one step forward, one step backwards.”
($1=85.475 Japanese yen)

(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Yoko
Kubota, Chang-ran Kim, Issei Kato and Masahiro Koike in Tokyo;
Writing by Michael Perry and Daniel Magnowski; Editing by
Jonathan Thatcher and Miral Fahmy)

WRAPUP 5-Japan ready to stop pumping radioactive water into sea