|Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay reports on the brewing debate over Japan's nuclear safety and energy policy
Japanese officials grappling to end the nuclear crisis at the earthquake and tsunami-damaged Fukushima plant are focusing on a crack in a concrete pit that is leaking highly radioactive water into the ocean from a crippled reactor.
"There have been two attempts now to stem the flow of water from a pit near reactor No. 2," Al Jazeera's Wayne Hay, reporting from Tokyo, said on Sunday.
"The biggest challenge ... is that there are more than 10,000 spent fuel rods. It will take a very long time to reprocess them, and we sincerely apologise for that"
Goshi Hosono, Japanese legislator and adviser
"In the first they [power plant workers] tried to use cement but that failed, in the second they tried to use a polymeric material, a kind of powder, but at the moment that is not working either," he said.
"Officials at TEPCO [the company that operates the plant] say they are not giving up yet on this product they will test it again on Monday. If it isn't working then, it is not clear what step 3 will be to try and stem the flow of this water.
"But even if they do stop the water flowing out of this pit, the water shouldn't be there in the first place, this is a pit that contains cables, so how do they stop that, that's the next question."
The water has been leaking into the sea from a 20-centimetre crack detected at a pit in the reactor where power cables are stored. TEPCO said the pit is connected to the No. 2 reactor's turbine building and a tunnel-like underground trench, in which highly radioactive water has been spotted so far.
Solution 'could take months'
Operators of the plant are no closer to regaining control of damaged reactors, as fuel rods remain overheated and high levels of radiation are flowing into the sea.
Radiation 4,000 times the legal limit has been detected in seawater near the plant and a floating tanker was to be towed to Fukushima to store contaminated seawater.
But until the plant's internal cooling system is reconnected radiation will flow from the plant.
|Engineers grappled to seal a crack that has been leaking radiation into the ocean [Reuters/NISA handout]
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), on Sunday offered the first sense of how long it might take to bring an end to the nuclear crisis.
"It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future,'' Nishiyama said.
"We'll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end.''
Goshi Hosono, a government legislator who has advised the prime minister, said on Fuji TV that it was going to be "a long battle".
He had highlighted the threat from 4.5-metre-long spent fuel rods that remain volatile for months and need to be cooled in pools with circulating water.
"The biggest challenge at this plant is that there are more than 10,000 spent fuel rods ... It will take a very long time to reprocess them, and we sincerely apologise for that," said Hosono.
"It is unacceptable that radioactive substances keep being released, causing anxiety among the people. Probably it will take several months before we reach the point" where all radiation leaks stop.
Meanwhile TEPCO announced that two of its workers were killed by the tsunami that followed the March 12 earthquake, confirming the first deaths at the complex.
"It pains me that these two young workers were trying to protect the power plant while being hit by the earthquake and tsunami,'' TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement on Sunday.
Their bodies, discovered just last week, had to be decontaminated due to radiation coming from the damaged reactor.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies