The operator of Japan's crippled nuclear power plant started paying "condolence money" on Tuesday to victims of the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl while it kept pouring radioactive water into the sea.
In desperation, engineers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have turned to what are little more than home remedies to stem the flow of contaminated water. On Tuesday, they used "liquid glass" in the hope of plugging cracks in a leaking concrete pit.
"We tried pouring sawdust, newspaper and concrete mixtures into the side of the pit (leading to tunnels outside reactor No.2), but the mixture does not seem to be entering the cracks," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).
"We also still do not know how the highly contaminated water is seeping out of Reactor No.2," said Nishiyama.
Workers are struggling to restart cooling pumps -- which recycle the water -- in four reactors damaged by last month's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.
Their problem is that until those are fixed, they must pump in water from outside to prevent overheating and meltdowns. In the process that creates more contaminated water that has to be pumped out and stored somewhere else or released into the sea.
There is a total of 60,000 tonnes of highly contaminated water in the plant after workers frantically poured in seawater when fuel rods experienced partial meltdown after the tsunami hit northeast Japan on March 11.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) was forced on Monday to start releasing 11,500 tonnes of low-level radioactive seawater after it ran out of storage capacity for more highly contaminated water. The release will continue until Friday.
Radioactive iodine of up to 4,800 times the legal limit has been recorded in the sea near the plant. Caesium was found at levels above safety limits in tiny "kounago" fish in waters off Ibaraki Prefecture, south of Fukushima, local media reported.
Iodine-131 in the water by the sluice gate of reactor No. 2 hit a high on April 2 of 7.5 million times the legal limit. It fell to 5 million times the legal limit on Monday.
TEPCO said on Tuesday it had started paying "condolence money" to local governments to aid people evacuated from around its stricken plant or affected by the radiation crisis.
TEPCO faces a huge bill for the damage caused by its crippled reactors, but said it must first assess the extent of damage before paying actual compensation.
"We are still in discussion as to what extent we will pay on our own and to what extent we will have assistance from the government," TEPCO executive vice-president Takashi Fujimotohe told a news conference.
He said TEPCO offered 20 million yen ($238,000) in condolence money to towns near the reactors whose residents were forced to evacuate. A second TEPCO official said they offered that sum to 10 towns but one refused to take the money.
Shares of TEPCO plunged to a record low of 363 yen on Tuesday on uncertainty over the nuclear crisis. The shares have lost more than 80 percent of their value since the quake struck.
The quake and tsunami have left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing, thousands homeless and Japan's northeast coast a wreck.
The world's costliest natural disaster has caused power blackouts and cuts to supply chains, threatening Japan's economic growth and the operations of global firms from semiconductor makers to shipbuilders.
Fujimoto said TEPCO wants to avoid having to impose rolling power blackouts in summer, when demand surges due to heavy use of air-conditioning. Analysts say blackouts could cause the biggest economic damage to Japan.
The world's biggest auto maker Toyota Motor Corp will idle some U.S. factories due to supplies in Japan drying up. The company, which built nearly 1.5 million cars and trucks in North America last year, said it did not know how many of its 13 plants would be affected.
The nuclear crisis alone is likely to lead to one of the country's largest and most complex ever set of claims for civil damages, handing a huge bill to the fiscally strained government and debt-laden plant operator TEPCO.
MAY SEEK RUSSIAN HELP
After seeking help from France and the United States, Japanese officials say they are considering asking Russia to lend it a floating radiation treatment plant used to decommission Russian submarines.
The "Suzuran", one of the world's largest liquid radioactive waste treatment plants, treats radioactive liquid with chemicals and stores it in a cement form.
TEPCO said it would also build tanks to hold contaminated seawater, was towing a floating tank which will arrive next week, and was negotiating the purchase of three more.
Engineers also plan to build two giant "silt curtains" made of polyester fabric in the sea to block the spread of more contamination from the plant. ($1 = 84.040 Japanese Yen)
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