Meanwhile, just outside the bustling disaster response center in the city of Fukushima, 40 miles (60 kilometers) northwest of the plant, government nuclear specialist Kazuya Konno was able to take only a three-minute break for his first meeting since the quake with his wife, Junko, and their children.
“It’s very nerve-racking. We really don’t know what is going to become of our city,” said Junko Konno, 35. “Like most other people, we have been staying indoors unless we have to go out.”
She brought her husband a small backpack with a change of clothes and snacks. The girls — aged 4 and 6 and wearing pink surgical masks decorated with Mickey Mouse — gave their father hugs.
Low levels of radiation have been detected well beyond Tokyo, which is 140 miles (220 kilometers) south of the plant, but hazardous levels have been limited to the plant itself.
Nuclear reactors at the Fukushima plant began overheating and leaking radiation into the atmosphere in the days after the March 11 quake and the subsequent tsunami overwhelmed its cooling systems. The government admitted it was slow to respond to the nuclear troubles, which added another crisis on top of natural disasters, which officials believe killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than 400,000 others.
There were signs of progress in bringing the overheating reactors and fuel storage pools under control.
A fire truck with a high-pressure cannon was parked outside the plant’s Unit 3, about 300 meters (yards) from the Pacific coast, and began shooting a stream of water nonstop into the pool for seven straight hours, said Kenji Kawasaki, a spokesman for the nuclear safety agency.
A separate pumping vehicle will keep the fire truck’s water tank refilled. Because of high radiation levels, firefighters will only go to the truck every three hours when it needs to be refueled. They expect to pump about 1,400 tons of water, nearly the capacity of the pool.
Edano said conditions at the reactors in units 1, 2 and 3 — all of which have been rocked by explosions in the past eight days — had “stabilized.”
Holes were punched in the roofs of units 5 and 6 to vent buildups of hydrogen gas, and the temperature in Unit 5’s fuel storage pool dropped after new water was pumped in, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.
“We more or less do not expect to see anything worse than what we are seeing now,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
Although a replacement power line reached the complex Friday, workers had to methodically work through badly damaged and deeply complex electrical systems to make the final linkups without setting off a spark and potentially an explosion. Company officials hoped to be able to switch on the all the reactors’ power on Sunday.
Even once the power is reconnected, it is not clear if the cooling systems will still work.
The storage pools need a constant source of cooling water. When removed from reactors, uranium rods are still very hot and must be cooled for months, possibly longer, to prevent them from heating up again and emitting radioactivity.
More workers were thrown into the effort — bringing the total at the complex to 500 — and the safety threshold for radiation exposure for them was raised two-and-a-half times so that they could keep working.