BY Katie Nelson
The race is on to rush fresh water to Japan’s crumbling nuclear power plant, in yet another desperate bid to cool overheated reactors and curb the ongoing radiation crisis.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant workers were using sea saltwater to cool the plant, but fears are growing that the corrosive salt could further damage reactor unit machinery.
The U.S. Navy is sending barges loaded with 500,000 gallons of fresh water to nearby Onahama Bay so that water injections could begin in the next few days, the Associated Press reported.
Japanese officials suspect a breach in one or more of the plant’s units – possibly a crack or hole in the stainless steel chamber around a reactor core containing fuel rods, or the concrete wall surrounding a pool where spent fuel rods are stored. Radioactivity continued to rise in some units as a result, Japanese officials said Saturday.
It will be “a long time” until the crisis ends, said government spokesman Yukio Edano.
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“We seem to be keeping the situation from turning worse,” he said. “But we still cannot be optimistic.”
In other Japan-related news:
* Japanese government officials hammered the unstable plant’s management on Saturday for missteps.
Plant workers initially went in without proper protective footwear, wearing boots that only came up to their ankles – hardly high enough to protect their legs, a spokesman for the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.
“Regardless of whether there was an awareness of high radioactivity in the stagnant water, there were problems in the way work was conducted,” spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said.
* Parts of America’s radiation alert network have been out of order in recent weeks, raising concerns about the ability of the U.S. to protect itself during future nuclear events.
The sensor system has helped monitor radiation coming from Japan, federal officials said, and no dangerous levels of radiation have reached U.S. shores.
But four of the 11 stationary, outdoor monitors in California were offline for repairs or maintenance last week, the Associated Press reported.
Portable monitors went up in place of the off-line equipment in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego last weekend, Environmental Protection Agency officials said. And about 20 monitors out of 124 nationwide were out of service earlier this week, including units in Buffalo and Harlingen, Tex.
* Radiation-tinged food and water in Japan is still creating concerns since it has made its way into milk, water and 11 kinds of vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and turnips.
But Saturday, officials said tap water is now safe enough for babies to drink, only a few days after tests showed showed higher-than-normal levels of radiation in water, endangering infants, who are particularly vulnerable to radioactive iodine.
* Japanese soldiers and U.S. Marines were clearing away debris in order to keep searching for bodies and bury the dead.
The official death toll was 10,418 Saturday, with more than 17,000 listed as missing, police said. The final death toll was expected to surpass 18,000.