Japan gov't demands action to avoid sea contamination

Fukushima nuclear plant employees use bath salts to trace radiation leak from reactor; Japanese cabinet secretary warns of huge ocean impact.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant (R) 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant (R) 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ho New)
TOKYO - Japan's government on Monday told the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to move quickly to stop radiation seeping into the ocean as desperate engineers resorted to bath salts to help trace a leak from one reactor.
One official has warned it could take months before the nuclear crisis caused by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami is under control.
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"We need to stop the spread of (contaminated water) into the ocean as soon as possible. With that strong determination, we are asking Tokyo Electric Power Co to act quickly," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a news conference.
He warned that accumulating radiation from a leak that has defied desperate efforts to halt it "will have a huge impact on the ocean".
In the face of Japan's biggest crisis since World War Two, one newspaper poll said that nearly two-thirds of voters want the government to form a coalition with the major opposition party and work together to recover from the massive damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Underlining the concern over the impact on the world's third largest economy, a central bank survey showed that big manufacturers expect business conditions to worsen significantly in the next three months, though they were not quite as pessimistic as some analysts had expected.
An aide to embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Sunday that the government's priority now was to stop radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant, 240 km north of Tokyo, and that the situation had "somewhat stabilised".
"How long will it take to achieve (the goal of stopping the radiation leaks)? I think several months would be one target," said Goshi Hosono, a ruling party lawmaker and aide to Kan.
In their desperation, engineers at plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) have used anything to hand to try to stop the leaks.
At the weekend, they mixed sawdust and newspapers with polymers and cement in a so far unsuccessful attempt to seal the crack in a concrete pit at reactor no.2, where radioactive water has been flowing into the sea.
On Monday, they resorted to powdered bath salts to produce a milky color to help trace the source of the leak.
TEPCO is planning to put some sort of curtain into the sea by the nuclear plant to try to prevent radioactive water spreading further into the ocean. It has not decided what material to use.
The government has said three of the six Fukushima reactors were now generally stable. At least four will eventually be scrapped but that could take decades.