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Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said some evacuees might be able to return home within six to nine months. He urged Tepco to beat that deadline, though it is clear the full cleanup will take years.

In a show of support for a staunch American ally, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed admiration and sympathy for the Japanese as she visited Tokyo on Sunday.

Mrs. Clinton met with Mr. Kan, the prime minister, and had tea with the emperor and empress, who have been visiting evacuation centers to show their sympathy and support for the victims of the disasters, which have left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing.

“We pledge our steadfast support for you and your future recovery. We are very confident that Japan will demonstrate the resilience that we have seen during this crisis in the months ahead,” Mrs. Clinton said.

She said Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto told her Japan hoped for U.S. feedback on Tepco’s plan.

Mr. Kan said in a weekend commentary in the International Herald Tribune that ending the nuclear crisis as soon as possible was his “top priority.”

As Japan has begun planning for reconstruction and mulling how to pay for it, Mr. Kan’s political opponents have resumed calls for his resignation after refraining from criticism in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Government officials fanned out across the affected areas over the weekend seeking to explain evacuation decisions and to calm nerves. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano met Sunday with the governor of Fukushima, who vigorously has protested the predicament the nuclear crisis poses for his prefecture.

“The safety of residents is our foremost priority,” Mr. Edano said. “I told the governor that the government will do everything it can to prevent the crisis from worsening.”

Explosions, fires and other malfunctions have hindered efforts to repair the stricken plant and stem radiation leaks.

Tepco Vice President Sakae Muto said Sunday the Unit 2 containment vessel at the plant was leaky and likely to have been damaged, but added that most spent fuel roads in the cooling pool in Unit 4 were confirmed not to have been damaged.

Workers have been spraying massive amounts of water into the overheated reactors and spent fuel storage pools. Some of that water, contaminated with radiation, has leaked into the Pacific.

Officials reported late Saturday that radioactivity again had risen sharply in seawater near the plant, signaling the possibility of new leaks. Authorities have insisted the radioactivity will dissipate in the ocean and poses no immediate threat to sea creatures or people who might eat them. Most experts agree.

Regardless, plant workers began dumping into the sea sandbags filled with sand and zeolite, a mineral that absorbs radioactive cesium, over the weekend to reduce radiation levels.

Tepco said it plans to establish a system to recycle cooling water that will remove radioactivity as well as salt left behind by seawater that was earlier used as an emergency cooling measure. Salt corrodes the reactors and interferes with the cooling system.

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