Two workers were named as the first official deaths at Japan's embattled nuclear power plant yesterday, three weeks after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the country.
Kazuhiko Kokubo (24) and Yoshiki Terashima (21) died at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan on the day of the earthquake, while conducting regular checks of a reactor. Both suffered multiple injuries. The bodies were discovered last week but were put through decontamination before they could be returned to their families.
"It pains me that these two young workers were trying to protect the power plant while being hit by the earthquake and tsunami," said Tsunehisa Katsumata, the chairman of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the operator of the plant.
There appeared no end in sight to the world's worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. A fresh crack was discovered in a concrete pit near Reactor Two and was generating radiation levels at 4,000 times the legal limit.
An attempt to seal it using concrete failed and officials have now started using water-absorbent polymers in an effort to prevent any more contaminated water leaking into the Pacific Ocean.
"There was no difference in the amount of water running out after they poured cement into the pit," said a nuclear safety agency official. "Tepco needs to take steps to stop the leak once and for all."
Authorities emphasised that there was no public health risk due to a fishing ban within a 12-mile radius of the plant.
Scientists also confirmed that ocean currents would swiftly dilute the radioactive iodine-131, eliminating risks to human health and the environment.
A safety agency spokesman said it could take several more months to bring the plant under control, adding: "We'll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end."
Staff at Fukushima continued to work around the clock in an attempt to regain control over four severely damaged reactors at the plant, which had six in total. Radiation has been leaking since reactor cooling systems were knocked out by the tsunami.
The nuclear crisis continued to cast a grim shadow over the widespread destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami, which left 12,009 people dead and 15,427 missing.
There were growing fears that many bodies may never be recovered: only 167 additional victims were reported to have been found during a search of coastal and inland areas that began on Friday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)