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Monday, April 4, 2011

Two missing Tepco workers found dead

Crews hit pit leak with polymer after concrete fails


Staff writer

Two workers reported missing after the Tohoku quake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima No. 1 power plant were found dead Wednesday in the basement of the No. 4 reactor's turbine building, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Sunday.

News photo
Swing and a miss: Tepco workers attempted to plug a leak in the wall of a flooded storage pit (top) at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant Saturday but were forced to examine other options when the concrete failed to set. KYODO PHOTO

Meanwhile, the beleaguered utility's second effort to plug a radioactive pit leaking contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean also appeared to be failing.

The deceased employees, Kazuhiko Kokubo, 24, and Yoshiki Terashima, 21, were members of the plant's operation management division. They died of shock from blood loss caused by multiple external injuries.

Tepco said the men died at around 4 p.m. on March 11, suggesting they were killed by the effects of the monster tsunami rather than radiation leaking from the damaged reactors.

Although the bodies were found Wednesday, Tepco said it refrained from releasing the information so it could notify their next of kin and hand over the bodies first.

The two men are Tepco's first fatalities at the nuclear plant since the quake and tsunami crippled four of its six reactors.

The two were last seen alive just after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck, heading to the basement of No. 4's turbine building. Tepco had been searching the turbine building and pumping water from the basement.

"To lose two young employees who tried to ensure the safety of the plant is a most deplorable event," Tepco Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

"Our company will vow never to let this kind of tragedy happen again and do our utmost to resolve the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant."

One of the bodies was found floating inside the No. 4 unit building, while the other was discovered in an area where the water had receded. After their bodies were recovered, they were decontaminated Thursday because of the high radiation readings in the building.

On Sunday night, Tepco was still attempting to plug up a cable trench leading to a damaged storage pit with a combination of polymer, sawdust and shredded newspaper to stop highly radioactive water from entering the cracked pit and seeping into the ocean. An earlier attempt to plug it with concrete failed because the water was preventing it from setting.

About 60 kg of sawdust and shredded newspapers stuffed into garbage bags was thrown into the cable trench along with 8 kg of a special expanding polymer.

The polymer, a substance commonly used in diapers, expands to around 50 times its original size upon absorbing water and turns viscous.

To repair and restart the damaged reactors' cooling systems, Tepco must find the source of the leak, seal it, and pump the contaminated water out of the turbine buildings.

If there's no progress by Monday morning, Tepco said it will use a dye to trace the flow.

Speaking on a TV program Sunday, Goshi Hosono, an adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, said that putting an end to the radiation leaks may take "several months."

NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said the crisis will have to be tackled in stages, from drying out the turbine buildings and preventing further spread of airborne radiation to installing a permanent cooling system for the reactors and spent fuel pools.

"In the next several months, these measures are likely to be on track so we will be able to foresee the future," he said.

On Saturday, Tepco announced that a cracked storage pit with deadly radioactivity exceeding 1,000 millisieverts per hour was the source of the irradiated water contaminating the ocean.



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