TOKYO – Radioactive water continued to seep into the sea today after a failed attempt by the operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant to seal the leak using an absorbent polymer, sawdust and shredded paper.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials think the leak has been coming from a concrete pit holding power cables near reactor No. 2. The utility said it would use a dye today to try to trace the path of the leak, Kyodo news reported. Radiation levels in the pit water are an estimated 1,000 millisieverts per hour, a high but not immediately lethal dose.

Engineers also planned to begin injecting nitrogen gas into reactors Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in an attempt to prevent possible explosions from the buildup of hydrogen gas. Explosions at the three reactors in the first four days after the magnitude-9 earthquake and accompanying tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 badly damaged the reactor buildings and disabled the cooling pumps that provided water to the reactors. Government officials say it may take months to fully restore the cooling systems.

The official death toll from the disaster topped 12,000 Sunday, as about 25,000 U.S. and Japanese troops finished an intensive three-day effort to recover bodies. The search located 78 corpses, but more than 15,000 people are still officially listed as missing. About 160,000 survivors remain in shelters.

Japan’s Red Cross and the Central Community Chest of Japan have collected more than $1 billion but have yet to distribute any cash directly to victims, prompting chief Cabinet secretary Yukio Edano to urge Sunday that the process be accelerated.

A Red Cross spokeswoman, Miyoko Kawamura, responded that the payments would likely start before the end of April.

 


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