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Damaged Japanese reactor could spew radiation for months

Workers at Japan's devastated Fukushima nuclear power complex are struggling to stop radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean, as the government warned that the facility may leach contamination for months.

Workers wearing protective gear at the Fukushima nuclear complex

Fixing radiation leaks could take months, Japan said

Engineers at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex are grappling to seal a a crack leaking radiation into the Pacific Ocean, but radioactive water is still gushing into the sea.

Despite efforts to stop the leak with a chemical substance mixed with sawdust and shredded newspaper, Japan's nuclear safety agency spokesman, Hidehiko Nishiyama, said the polymer mix had not yet sealed the crack in a maintenance pit that is spewing water into the ocean.

An earlier attempt to seal the crack with concrete failed. The Fukushima plant has been leaking radiation since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the government has warned that there is no quick solution.

"This is going to be a long battle," said Goshi Hosono, a lawmaker who has been advising Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the crisis.

"The biggest challenge at this plant is that there are more than 10,000 spent fuel rods," Hosono said during a television interview. He added that it would "probably take several months" before all radiation leaks can be stopped.

So far, radiation has leaked into the air, the sea, drinking water and food, but experts maintain that beyond the disaster zone, there is minimal risk to human health in Japan or abroad.

A Japanese vegetable vendor stocking tomatoes

Japan says irradiation of food is within safety limits

The Health Ministry said its latest tests of regional fruit, vegetables and seafood had found radioactive cesium and iodine in some, but within the legal limits of food sanitation laws.

Prime Minister Kan toured the devastated region on Saturday, offering refugees government support for rebuilding their homes and livelihoods in towns that the earthquake and tsunami have turned into wastelands.

Although more than three weeks have passed, some 164,000 people remain in evacuation centers and the death toll continues to rise. As of Sunday, more than 12,000 people were listed as dead with 15,500 still missing.

Germany calls for action to help Japan

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, has called on the European Union to jump-start free trade negotiations with Japan in light of the economic devastation caused by the earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis. The minister was on a four-hour stopover in Japan on Saturday.

Westerwelle met with his Japanese counterpart, Takeaki Matsumoto, in Tokyo where he expressed Berlin's solidarity with the disaster-struck island nation.

"It's about showing Japan that during this period it has European friends in Germany," Westerwelle said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart, Takeaki Matsumoto

Germany is prepared to help, said Foreign Minister Westerwelle during a visit to Tokyo

Berlin has offered 220 tons of humanitarian aid as well as a special pump to help with the cooling of the damaged Fukushima plant. German aid organizations have collected 17 million euros ($24 million) in donations.

Japan, however, has so far reacted hesitantly toward offers of foreign aid.

"We have offered help, but we won't force it," said Westerwelle. "We completely respect the fact that Japan values using its own resources."

Domestic concerns

Westerwelle also addressed energy policy during his Tokyo visit, saying Berlin is convinced that a stable and sustainable bridge toward renewable energy has to be built.

"Importantly, we [also] have to improve the quality and safety of nuclear energy in the world by establishing international safety standards," he said.

After flip-flopping its position on nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, Westerwelle's liberal Free Democrats (FDP) suffered major electoral losses along with its coalition partners the Christian Democrats in the key southern state of Baden-Württemberg a week ago.

Westerwelle has come under increasing pressure to resign as head of the FDP as a consequence of the election results. He told reporters in Tokyo that he would not discuss the issue during the trip, saying it would be "inappropriate" to do so.

Author: Gregg Benzow, Spencer Kimball (dpa, AFP,Reuters)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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