WRAPUP 5-Japan’s reactor operator apologises for radiation release

* TEPCO apologises to Japan, neighbours over radiation

* Pumping of radioactive water into see to end Sunday

* Beijing to closely monitor Japan’s nuclear actions

* China bans imports of farm products from 12 areas

(Recasts with TEPCO apology, water pumping plans)

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Chisa Fujioka

TOKYO, April 9 (Reuters) – A Japanese power company
executive apologised on Saturday for spreading radiation into
the air and sea as regulators said the pumping of radioactive
water into waters off Japan from a crippled nuclear plant would
end one day later than planned.

The apology from Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO)
came a day after China and South Korea expressed concern at the
discharge of contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi plant
smashed by last month’s earthquake, reflecting growing
international unease over the month-long nuclear crisis.

“It is almost a month since the earthquake took place. 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.

“We caused worry and trouble for having made this decision
without taking sufficient time to explain the matter beforehand
to those involved, to the press, to the fishing industry and to
people overseas, and we are sorry for this,” he added.

Hidehiko Nishiyama, a deputy director-general at Japan’s
Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, earlier told reporters
“we are working on releasing water … we are likely to finish
this tomorrow.”

He said a condenser at the No.2 reactor had been emptied of
low-radiation water on Saturday, making room for engineers to
shift highly radioactive water from the reactor’s trench.

“To prevent radioactive water in the trench from overflowing
is an important step considering a possible further
contamination of the sea,” Nishiyama said.

Plant operator TEPCO said earlier it expected to stop
pumping tainted water into the sea on Saturday, but work was
interrupted by a powerful aftershock on Thursday.

TEPCO is struggling to contain the worst atomic crisis since
Chernobyl. Engineers say they are far from in control of the
damaged reactors and it could take months to stabilise them and
years to clear up the toxic mess left behind.

Nuclear reactor maker Toshiba Corp has proposed a
10-year plan to decommission four of the six damaged reactors at
the plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, said Kyodo news
agency.

But the government has said it was too early to have a
“specific road map” for ending the crisis.

Nishiyama said Japan would look into the electric power
back-up system that had failed after the tsunami, leaving
operators unable to cool the reactor. “Based on this experience,
we need to review everything in the direction of safety,” he
said.

The magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami on March 11 left
28,000 people dead or missing, and northeastern Japan a
splintered wreck.

More than 153,000 people affected by the tsunami and
radiation are living in school gymnasiums and other evacuation
centres, according to the National Police Agency. Several
tsunami-damaged cities have begun moving families into temporary
housing, NHK state television said.

Banri Kaieda, a minister whose portfolio includes the
nuclear industry, said he hoped evacuees from the radiation zone
in Fukushima could visit their homes as soon as possible.

Japan has made evacuation mandatory for people living within
a 20 km (12-mile) radius of the crippled reactor and urged those
living between 20 km and 30 km from the plant to stay indoors.

“There were expectations among the evacuees that they could
return to their homes for one night, but they will only be able
to stay for a few hours to gather their personal belongings,”
Kaieda was quoted by Jiji news agency as saying in Fukushima.

GLOBAL RADIATION CONCERNS

Several countries have restricted food imports from Japan
over radiation fears as Japan’s economy reels from the country’s
worst disaster since World War Two.

Food is a tiny part of Japan’s export-oriented economy, but
disruptions to its manufacturing and electronics supply chains
are reverberating around the world.

China will ban imports of farm produce from 12 areas in
Japan, China’s quarantine authority said.

China said earlier 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]

Xinhua also reported trace levels of radioactivity had been
detected in 22 Chinese provinces.

On Friday, China said it would closely monitor Japan’s
actions to regain control of the plant and demanded Tokyo
provide swift and accurate information on the crisis.

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.

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.

ECONOMY REELING

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

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

Automaker Toyota Motor Corp plans to idle some of
U.S. plants late in April, 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.

Economists expect Japan to slip into recession this year.
($1=85.475 Japanese yen)

(Additional reporting by Yoko Nishikawa, Shinichi Saoshiro,
Leika Kihara and Chang-Ran Kim in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard and
Sui-lee Wee in Beijing, Jacqueline Wong in Shanghai, Jack Kim in
Seoul; Writing by Paul Eckert and Daniel Magnowski; Editing by
Miral Fahmy)

WRAPUP 5-Japan’s reactor operator apologises for radiation release