Japan's nuclear clean-up continued to unravel yesterday as officials admitted there may be too much radioactive water in the damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant for it to be pumped out.
Officials had hoped that by pumping thousands of tonnes of highly radioactive water from the plant in north-east Japan they would enable workers to fix crucial cooling systems which were severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, the deputy director-general of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, warned that an alternative plan might be necessary because of slow progress.
"It may be difficult to completely remove the contaminated water and so allow work to proceed," he said. "We may need to think of other options."
Confirming that there were 20,000 tonnes of contaminated water to remove from the basement and tunnel next to the Number 2 reactor alone, Mr Nishiyama said: "We will transfer the water next to the central radiation disposal building. We do not have a plan beyond that."
Concerns were also growing over damaged fuel rods in the plant's crippled reactors because of reports that they were emitting high levels of radiation and rising in temperature.
Five weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, there remains no clear end in sight for officials attempting to regain control over the nuclear crisis, which was recently raised to the maximum disaster rating of seven.
Last month Tepco, the plant operator, announced that it would decommission four reactors and would consult on another two which were shut down safely. Strong aftershocks this week have hampered efforts to repair the Fukushima Daiichi plant and raised worries over the further weakening of the structure.
Pierre Zaleski, a former member of the French Atomic Energy Commission, said: "The problem is these aftershocks. You never know if there are more aftershocks and containment may fail -- maybe not completely -- but these structures have been weakened."
The nuclear crisis has created a bleak backdrop for recovery efforts, with the latest figures showing that more than 28,000 people had been killed or remain missing.
Yesterday, 300 Japanese police in protective gear began searching for the bodies of victims in a six-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
The no-go zone is believed to contain up to 1,000 bodies, but officials have so far been unable to recover them because of fears over radiation.
Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited two evacuation shelters yesterday in Asahi city, about 50 miles east of Tokyo. The revered couple knelt on mats and spoke with evacuees.
Naoto Kan, the prime minister, was facing calls for his resignation from opposition politicians over his handling of the crisis.
A fragile political truce between the rival parties which had been in place since March 11 appeared to be unravelling as the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party placed pressure on Mr Kan to resign. (© Daily Telegraph, London)