Japan’s prime minsiter visits tsunami-hit fishing city

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“I would like to apologize from my heart over the worries and troubles we are causing for society due to the release of radiological materials into the atmosphere and seawater,” Sakae Muto, a vice president of the nuclear plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), said Saturday.

The pumping was set to end Sunday, and officials hoped that within days they could start transferring the more highly contaminated water to the now-drained facility. The operation is risky because the water will be transferred through a hose snaking around the complex, meaning that if there are cracks or leaks in the hose, radiation could escape.

“We must make sure we can do this safely,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, chief spokesman for Japan‘s nuclear safety agency.

Now that removal of the contaminated water is under way, officials are starting to consider options for restoring cooling systems vital to preventing further reactor damage. But they won’t know what will work best until the water is out of the way and they can see which parts are usable and which have been destroyed.

Tepco reiterated Sunday that it is not considering entombing the hot reactors in concrete, as was done at Chernobyl in 1986 when a reactor fire burned out of control.

“We are not opting for entombment at the moment,” said spokesman Junichi Matsumoto. “We see that Units 1-4 reactors are relatively stabilized, judging from the reactor temperature and water level, while we are short of calling them stable.”

Engineers have struggled to get data from the reactors because they don’t have normal access to them. On Sunday, a tiny remote-controlled drone aircraft from Honeywell did its first flight around the compound. Eventually, the gadget may be able to provide more specific information on radiation and temperatures in areas that have been off-limits to workers.

Meanwhile, in Tokyo’s Koenji section, where many students live, thousands of people carrying “No nukes” signs gathered for a rally in a park Sunday, then marched through the streets chanting and beating drums. Elsewhere in Tokyo, about 140 miles southwest of Fukushima Dai-ichi, protesters demanding the closure of a different plant chanted, “No more Fukushima,” as they marched through government headquarters and past the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Associated Press writer Mayumi Saito and television news producer Miles Edelsten contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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