Japan appeared to make moderate progress
in stabilizing some of the nuclear reactors at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant on Sunday, but at the same time it disclosed new signs of radioactive contamination
in agricultural produce and livestock.
The government said it was barring all shipments of milk from Fukushima
Prefecture and shipments of spinach from Ibaraki Prefecture, after finding new cases of above-normal levels of radioactive elements in milk and several vegetables.
Relatively high levels were also found in spinach
from Tochigi and Gunma Prefectures to the west
, canola from Gunma Prefecture and chrysanthemum greens from Chiba Prefecture, south
The emergency efforts to mitigate damage at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, meanwhile, brought some notes of relief
in the face of persistently dire conditions. The authorities said they had restored water pumps to two damaged reactors
, Nos. 5 and 6, that were not of central concern, putting them under control in a state known as “cold shutdown.”
But another reactor that has proved more worrisome, No. 3, continued to bedevil engineers.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which runs the plant, appeared to have experienced a serious setback
as officials said that pressure buildup at the ravaged No. 3 reactor would require the venting of more radioactive gases
But at a news conference a few hours later, officials from the power company said that the pressure had stabilized
and that they had decided they did not need to release the gases immediately
, which would have heightened worries about wider contamination among the population. They said they were unsure what had caused the pressure to rise
, highlighting the uncertainty
engineers must still grapple with at Fukushima.
The power company also said that on Sunday workers injected 40 tons of water
into the storage pool containing spent fuel rods at Unit No. 2, and that firefighters began spraying water into the pool at Unit No. 4. On Saturday, firefighters sprayed water at the storage pool of Unit No. 3 for more than 13 hours.The reactors placed in cold shutdown were already shut down before the earthquake
and the tsunami struck on March 11, posing less of a risk than the other reactors at the plant. But their cooling systems were knocked out, and the fuel rods left inside the reactors started to heat up, together with spent fuel rods in a separate storage pool.
“We are getting closer to bringing the situation under control,” Tetsuro Fukuyama, the deputy chief cabinet secretary of the Japanese government, said of the entire plant late Sunday.
After connecting a mile-long electrical transmission line
on Saturday, workers made progress in starting to restore power
to the plant, which may allow the operator to restart its cooling systems. The government said that power was returned
to Reactor No. 2 at 3:46 p.m. Sunday, and that other reactors were also expected to gain power early in the week.
Even with electrical power extended to the reactors, there was no immediate indication from officials that the damaged pumping systems could be quickly restored.
Workers were trying to avoid further damage to fuel rods in the reactor cores
of Nos. 1, 2, and 3, and to prevent rods in the storage pools of Nos. 2, 3 and 4 from overheating.
Some experts project that the longer it takes to resolve the crisis fully, the greater the chances that one or more reactors or fuel storage pools will have to be abandoned
, increasing the risk of a catastrophic release of radiation.
The plant remains a hazardous place for the emergency crews trying to stave off further damage. At least 25 workers and five members of the Japanese Self-Defense Force have been exposed to unsafe amounts of radiation,
according to the power company. At least 20 workers and four self-defense soldiers have been injured, and two workers remain missing.
Mr. Fukuyama, the deputy chief cabinet secretary, stressed that although the readings were above levels deemed normal, they posed no immediate health risks.
“At current levels, I would let my children eat the spinach and drink the water
” from Fukushima, he said. His children did not drink much milk
Spinach from a farm in Hitachi, about 45 miles from the plant, contained 27 times the amount
of iodine that is generally considered safe, while cesium levels were about four times higher than is deemed safe
by Japan. Meanwhile, raw milk from a dairy farm in Iitate, about 18 miles from the plant, contained iodine levels that were 17 times higher
than those considered safe, and milk had cesium levels that were slightly above amounts considered safe.