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The World

April 4, 2011

Path of radiation leak at Japan plant unclear

TOKYO — Workers used a milky white dye Monday as they frantically tried to trace the path of highly radioactive water gushing near Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear plant and seeping into the ocean.

A crack in a maintenance pit found over the weekend was the latest confirmation that radioactivity continues to spill into the environment. The leak is a symptom of the primary difficulty at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex: Radioactive water is pooling around the plant and preventing workers from powering up cooling systems needed to stabilize dangerously vulnerable fuel rods.

Engineers have turned to a host of improvised and sometimes bizarre methods to tame the nuclear plant after it was crippled in Japan's magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami on March 11. Efforts over the weekend to clog the leak with a special polymer, sawdust and even shredded newspapers failed to halt the flow at a cracked concrete maintenance pit near the shoreline.

Suspecting they might be targeting the wrong channel to the pit, workers tried to see if they confirm the leak's pathway by dumping into the system several pounds (kilograms) of salts used to give bathwater a milky hue, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday.

"There could be other possible passages that the water may be traveling. We must watch carefully and contain it as quickly as possible," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency.

Radioactive water has pooled up throughout the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant because the operator has been forced to rely on makeshift ways of pumping water into plant — and allowing it to gush out wherever it can — to bring down temperatures and pressure in the reactor cores.

Government officials conceded Sunday that it will likely be several months before the cooling systems are completely restored. And 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.

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