- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2011

TOKYO (AP) — Mounting problems, including badly miscalculated radiation figures and inadequate storage tanks for huge amounts of contaminated water, stymied emergency workers Sunday as they struggled to nudge Japan’s stricken nuclear complex back from the edge of disaster.

Workers are attempting to remove the radioactive water from the tsunami-ravaged nuclear compound and restart the regular cooling systems for the dangerously hot fuel.

The day began with company officials reporting that radiation in leaking water in the Unit 2 reactor was 10 million times above normal, a spike that forced employees to flee the unit. The day ended with officials saying the huge figure had been miscalculated and offering apologies.

“The number is not credible,” said Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman Takashi Kurita. “We are very sorry.”

A few hours later, Tokyo Electric Vice President Sakae Muto said a new test had found radiation levels 100,000 times above normal — far better than the first results, though still very high.

But he ruled out having an independent monitor oversee the various checks despite the errors.

Officials acknowledged that there was radioactive water in all four of the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex’s most troubled reactors and that airborne radiation in Unit 2 measured 1,000 millisieverts per hour, four times the limit deemed safe by the government.

Those high airborne readings — if accurate — would make it very difficult for emergency workers to get inside to pump out the water.

Officials said they still don’t know where the radioactive water is coming from, though government spokesman Yukio Edano earlier said some is “almost certainly” seeping from a damaged reactor core in one of the units.

The discovery late last week of pools of radioactive water has been a major setback in the mission to get the crucial cooling systems operating more than two weeks after a massive earthquake and tsunami.

The magnitude-9 quake off Japan’s northeast coast on March 11 triggered a tsunami that barreled onshore and disabled the Fukushima plant, complicating a humanitarian disaster that is thought to have killed about 18,000 people.

“We cannot say at this time how many months or years it will take” to clean up the complex, Mr. Muto said, insisting the main goal now is to keep the reactors cool.

Workers have been scrambling to remove the radioactive water from the four units and find a place to store it safely. Each unit may hold tens of thousands of gallons of radioactive water, said Minoru Ogoda of Japan’s nuclear safety agency.

Safety agency officials were hoping to pump the water into huge, partly empty tanks inside the reactor that are designed to hold condensed water.

Those tanks, though, turned out to be completely full, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

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