SENDAI, Japan —
Workers have begun pumping radioactive water from one of the units, Masateru Araki, a TEPCO spokesman, said Saturday.
Plant officials and government regulators say they don't know the source of the radioactive water. It could have come from a leaking reactor core, connecting pipes or a spent fuel pool. Or it may be the result of overfilling the pools with emergency cooling water.
But a breach in the chamber surrounding the reactor core seemed "more likely," Nishiyama said.
The nuclear crisis has compounded the challenges faced by a nation already overwhelmed by the disaster and devastation wrought by the tsunami.
Japanese soldiers and U.S. Marines were clearing away debris so they could keep searching for bodies and bury the dead. The official death toll was 10,151 Saturday, with more than 17,000 listed as missing, police said. Those lists may overlap, but the final death toll was expected to surpass 18,000.
Hundreds of thousands whose homes were destroyed still have no power, no hot meals and, in many cases, have not showered in two weeks. Those living within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) radius of the plant have been evacuated.
Life was also tough in the ghost towns inside a larger voluntary evacuation zone, with most residents choosing to flee and wary truckers refusing to deliver goods.
In Minamisoma, a city of 71,000 about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of the nuclear plant, all but one or two shops shut their doors because of a lack of goods and customers, said city official Sadayasu Abe.
"Commercial trucks are simply not coming to the city at all due to radiation fears," he said Saturday.
Military troops and some private companies took up the task of delivering rice, instant noodles, bottled water and canned foods to eight central spots in the city, Abe said.
He said the city was urging the 10,000 or so still holding out to leave since the situation at the plant remains precarious.
"Life is very difficult here," he told The Associated Press by telephone. "We have electricity, gas and running water, but no food."
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers Shino Yuasa, Jeff Donn, Mayumi Saito and Joji Sakurai also contributed to this report.