WRAPUP 8-Japan expands nuclear evacuation, stops radiated water dumping

* High radiation forces extention of evacuations

* TEPCO finishes release of radioactive water into sea

* 6.6 magnitude quake briefly stops reactor cooling work

* No end in sight to month-long nuclear crisis

(Updates with completion of radioactive water release)

By Yoko Kubota and Yoko Nishikawa

TOKYO, April 11 (Reuters) – Japan expanded the evacuation
zone around a crippled nuclear plant on Monday because of high
levels of accumulated radiation, as a strong aftershock rattled
the area one month after a quake and tsunami sparked the worst
nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The operator of the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear
complex said it had stopped releasing low-level radioactive
water into the sea, completing the controlled discharges that
sparked concerns about contamination in neighbouring China and
South Korea.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, TEPCO, said 10,400 tonnes
of low-level radioactive water, left by the tsunami, had been
pumped back into the sea in order to free up storage capacity
for highly contaminated water from the reactors.

A magnitude 6.6 tremor shook buildings in Tokyo and a wide
swathe of eastern Japan on Monday evening, killing one man,
knocking out power to 220,000 households and causing a brief
halt to water pumping to cool three damaged nuclear reactors.

The epicentre of quake, which was followed by more than 25
aftershocks on Monday, was 88 km (56 miles) east of the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex at the centre of the crisis.

The biggest tremor forced engineers to postpone plans to
remove highly contaminated water from one reactor, but nuclear
safety officials said work had resumed by nightfall.

The government announced earlier that because of accumulated
radiation contamination, it would encourage people to leave
certain areas beyond its 20 km (12 mile) exclusion zone around
the plant.

Children, pregnant women, and hospitalised patients should
stay out of some areas 20-30 km from the nuclear complex, Chief
Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters.

“These new evacuation plans are meant to ensure safety
against risks of living there for half a year or one year,” he
said. There was no need to evacuate immediately, he added.

The move comes amid international concern over radiation
spreading from the six damaged reactors at Fukushima, which
engineers are still struggling to bring under control after they
were wrecked by the 15-metre tsunami on March 11.

TEPCO President Masataka Shimizu visited the area on Monday
for the first time the disaster. He had all but vanished from
public view apart from a brief apology shortly after the crisis
began and has spent some of the time since in hospital.

“I would like to deeply apologise again for causing physical
and psychological hardships to people of Fukushima prefecture
and near the nuclear plant,” said a grim-faced Shimizu.

Dressed in a blue work jacket, he bowed his head for a
moment of silence with other TEPCO officials at 2:46 p.m. (0546
GMT), exactly a calendar month after the earthquake hit.

Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato refused to meet him, but the
TEPCO boss left a business card at the government office.

RADIOACTIVE WATER

Engineers at the plant north of Tokyo said they were no
closer to restoring the plant’s cooling system, which is
critical to bring down the temperature of overheated fuel rods
and to bringing the six reactors under control.

In a desperate move to cool the highly radioactive fuel
rods, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has
pumped water onto reactors, some of which have experienced
partial meltdown.

But the strategy has hindered moves to restore the plant’s
internal cooling system as engineers have had to focus on how to
store 60,000 tonnes of contaminated water.

Engineers are also pumping nitrogen into reactors to counter
a build-up of hydrogen and prevent another explosion sending
more radiation into the air, but they say the risk of such a
dramatic event has lowered significantly since March 11.

The triple disaster is the worst to hit Japan since World
War Two, leaving nearly 28,000 dead or missing and rocking the
world’s third-largest economy.

Concern at the government’s struggle to handle the situation
is mounting, with Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s ruling party
suffering embarrassing losses in local elections on Sunday.

Voters vented their anger at the government’s handling of
the nuclear and humanitarian crisis, with Kan’s ruling
Democratic Party of Japan losing nearly 70 seats in local
election. [ID:nL3E7FA09V]

There is talk of forming a grand coalition of mainstream
parties to tackle the massive task of recovery from the
disaster. But the leader of one potential coalition partner said
Sunday’s polls made Kan’s party unattractive.

“The people are saying the government has been handling the
disaster badly. Joining hands with such a party … is not what
the people are hoping for,” New Komeito head Natsuo Yamaguchi
told Reuters in an interview. [ID:nL3E7FB1TN]

The unpopular Kan was already under pressure to step down
before March 11, but analysts say he is unlikely to be forced
out during the crisis, set to drag on for months.

“The great disaster was a double tragedy for Japan. The
first tragedy was the catastrophe caused by the earthquake,
tsunami and the nuclear accident. The other misfortune was that
the disaster resulted in prolonging Prime Minister Kan’s time in
office,” Sankei newspaper said in an editorial on Monday.
($1=85.475 Japanese yen)

(Additional reporting by Issei Kato, Shinichi Saoshiro, Chisa
Fujioka, Elaine Lies, Masahiro Koike and Linda Sieg in Tokyo;
Writing by Paul Eckert; Editing by Andrew Marshall)

WRAPUP 8-Japan expands nuclear evacuation, stops radiated water dumping