Engineers watch, wait to see if latest efforts will stop nuclear leak

Engineers pinned their hopes on chemicals, sawdust and shredded newspaper to stop highly radioactive water pouring into the ocean from Japan’s tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant Sunday as officials said it will take several months to bring the crisis under control, the first time they have provided a timetable.

Masashi Tomoshi

Masashi Tomoshi

TOKYO — Engineers pinned their hopes on chemicals, sawdust and shredded newspaper to stop highly radioactive water pouring into the ocean from Japan’s tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant Sunday as officials said it will take several months to bring the crisis under control, the first time they have provided a timetable.

Concrete already failed to stop the tainted water spewing from a crack in a maintenance pit, and the new mixture did not appear to be working either, but engineers said they were not abandoning it.

The Fukushima Da-ichi plant has been leaking radioactivity since the March 11 tsunami carved a path of destruction along Japan’s northeastern coast, killing as many as 25,000 people and knocking out key cooling systems that kept it from overheating. People living within 12 miles (20 kilometres) of the plant have been forced to abandon their homes.

The government said Sunday it will be several months before the radiation stops and permanent cooling systems are restored. Even after that happens, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it.

“It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future,” said Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama. “We’ll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end.”

His agency said the timetable is based on the first step, pumping radioactive water into tanks, being completed quickly and the second, restoring cooling systems, being done within a matter of weeks or months.

Every day brings some new problem at the plant, where workers have often been forced to retreat from repair efforts because of high radiation levels.

On Sunday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced it had found the bodies of two workers missing since the tsunami.

Radiation, debris and explosions kept workers from finding them until Wednesday, and then the announcement was delayed several days out of respect for their families.

TEPCO officials said they believed the workers ran down to a basement to check equipment after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that preceded the tsunami. They were there when the massive wave swept over the plant.

“It pains us to have lost these two young workers who were trying to protect the power plant amid the earthquake and tsunami,” TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

On Saturday, workers discovered an 8-inch (20-centimetre) crack in a maintenance pit at the plant and said they believe water from it may be the source of some of the high levels of radioactive iodine that have been found in the ocean for more than a week.

This is the first time they have found radioactive water leaking directly into the sea. A picture released by TEPCO shows water shooting some distance away from a wall and splashing into the ocean, though the amount is not clear. No other cracks have been found.

The radioactive water dissipates quickly in the ocean but could be dangerous to workers at the plant.

Engineers tried to seal the crack with concrete Saturday, but that effort failed.

So on Sunday they went farther up the system and injected sawdust, three garbage bags of shredded newspaper and a polymer — similar to one used to absorb liquid in diapers — that can expand to 50 times its normal size when combined with water.

The polymer mix in the passageway leading to the pit had not stopped the leak by Sunday night, but it also had not leaked out of the crack along with the water, so engineers were stirring it in an attempt to get it to expand.

They expected to know by Monday morning if it would work.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are still living in shelters, 200,000 households do not have water, and 170,000 do not have electricity.

Running water was just restored in the port city of Kesennuma on Saturday, and residents lined up Sunday to see a dentist who had flown in from the country’s far north to offer his services. Many were elderly and complaining of problems with their dentures.

Overhead and throughout the coastal region, helicopters and planes roared by as U.S. and Japanese forces finished their all-out search for bodies.

The effort, which ended Sunday, is probably the final hope for retrieving the dead, though limited operations may continue. It has turned up nearly 50 bodies in the past two days.

In all, more than 12,000 deaths have been confirmed, and another 15,500 people are missing.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Most Read