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Race to repair Japan power plant won't end soon

Updated at 7:36 p.m. ET


FUKUSHIMA, Japan - Officials raced Monday
to restore electricity to Japan's leaking nuclear
plant, but getting the power flowing will
hardly be the end of their battle: With its
mangled machinery and partly melted reactor cores, bringing the complex under control is a
monstrous job.
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Restoring the power to all six units at the tsunami-damaged complex is key because it will, in theory,
power up the maze of motors, valves and switches that help deliver cooling water to the overheated
reactor cores and spent fuel pools that are leaking radiation.
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Ideally, officials believe it should only take a day to get the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear under control
once the cooling system is up and running. In reality, the effort to end the crisis is likely to take
weeks.
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The Fukushima plant has been troubled for years, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.
In a report submitted to Japan's nuclear safety agency two weeks before the earthquake and
tsunami, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant's operator, admitted it failed to make routine
inspections of equipment from bolts to motors at the Fukushima plant. An investigation by The Wall
Street Journal found the plant had the highest accident rate of any large nuclear facility in the
country and more workers exposed to radiation.
If the latest efforts to get the cooling pumps up and running don't work, the government may have to
consider taking drastic measures, such as encasing the entire plant in sand and concrete as was

done in the Chernobyl disaster, Whitaker reports.


"That idea is one that might happen in the long-term because the reality is we've got a lot of
damaged spent fuel rods in the reactor cores and in these spent fuel pools, and it can be very hard to
deal with," Matthew Bunn, a nuclear expert at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government,
told CBS' "The Early Show" Monday. "That's not something you could do in a matter of days. It's
going to take months to build such a tomb. Right now the key priority is to get all the fuel under
water again."
Late Monday night, the deputy director general of Japan's nuclear safety body suggested to
reporters why there is so much uncertainty about when the job will be finished.
"We have experienced a very huge disaster that has caused very large damage at a nuclear power
generation plant on a scale that we had not expected," said Hidehiko Nishiyama of the Nuclear and
Industrial Safety Agency.

The nuclear plant's cooling systems were wrecked by the massive earthquake and tsunami that
devastated northeastern Japan on March 11. Since then, conditions at the plant have been volatile; a
plume of smoke rose from two reactor units Monday, prompting workers to evacuate.
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A spokesman for the Japanese agency told broadcaster NHK early Tuesday in Japan that the white
smoke seen rising above the complex's troubled Unit 2 is an indication that the water is evaporating
out of the spent fuel container. The agency also told NHK that workers expected to attach power
lines to Unit 5 on Tuesday.
In another setback, the plant's operator said Monday it had just discovered that some of the cooling
system's key pumps at Unit 2 are no longer functional meaning replacements have to be brought in.
Tokyo Electric said it had placed emergency orders for new pumps, but how long it would take for
them to arrive was unclear.
Planned "pin-point hosing" of Unit 2's reactor has been temporarily suspended until the pumps are
repaired, NHK reported.
If officials can get the power turned on, get the replacement pumps working and get enough
seawater into the reactors and spent fuel pools, it would only take a day to bring the temperatures
back to a safe, cooling stage, said Ryohei Shiomi, an official with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety
Agency.
And if not?
"There is nothing else we can do but keep doing what we've been doing," Shiomi said.

In other words, officials would continue dousing the plant in seawater and hope for the best.
An official of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in Washington that Units 1, 2 and 3 have
all seen damage to their reactor cores, but that containment is intact. The assessment dispels some
concerns about Unit 2, where an explosion damaged a pressure-reducing chamber around the
bottom of the reactor core.
"I would say optimistically that things appear to be on the verge of stabilizing," said Bill Borchardt,
the commission's executive director for operations.
Monday's evacuation of workers from the plant came after smoke began rising from the spent fuel
storage pool of the plant's problem-plagued Unit 3, Tokyo Electric spokesman Hiroshi Aizawa said.
Unit 3 also alarmed plant officials over the weekend with a sudden surge of pressure in its reactor
core.
What caused the smoke to billow first from Unit 3 and then from Unit 2 is under investigation,
nuclear safety agency officials said. Still, in the days since the earthquake and tsunami, both
reactors have overheated and seen explosions. Workers were evacuated from the area to buildings
nearby, though radiation levels remained steady, the officials said.
Problems set off by the disasters have ranged far beyond the shattered northeast coast and the
wrecked nuclear plant, handing the government what it has called Japan's worst crisis since World
War II. Rebuilding may cost as much as $235 billion. Police estimate the death toll will surpass
18,000.
Traces of radiation are tainting vegetables and some water supplies, although in amounts the
government and health experts say do not pose a risk to human health in the short term. That has
caused the government to ban sale of raw milk, spinach and canola from prefectures over a swath
from the plant toward Tokyo. The government has just started to test fish and shellfish.
Tokyo Electric said radioactive iodine about 127 times normal levels and radioactive cesium about
25 times above the norm were detected in seawater 100 yards off the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Despite that concentration, a senior official at the International Atomic Energy Agency said the
ocean was capable of absorbing vast amounts of radiation with no effect and that - comparatively the radioactivity released so far by the plant was minor.
"I would stress that the levels concerned are really very, very small, compared to Concrete Flooring
the natural radioactivity that you find in the oceans," said Graham Andrew, senior adviser to IAEA
chief Yukiya Amano. "The quantities are tiny compared to the reservoir of natural radioactivity in the
oceans."

The Health Ministry has advised Iitate, a


village of 6,000 people about 19 miles
northwest of the plant, not to drink tap
water due to elevated levels of iodine.
Ministry spokesman Takayuki Matsuda
said iodine three times the normal level
was detected there about one twentysixth of the level of a chest X-ray in one
liter of water.
"Please do not overreact, and act calmly,"
Chief Cabinet spokesman Yukio Edano
said in the government's latest appeal to
ease public concerns. "Even if you eat
contaminated vegetables several times, it will not harm your health at all."
Edano said Tokyo Electric would compensate farmers affected by bans on milk, spinach and canola.
The World Health Organization said Japan will have to do more to reassure the public about food
safety.
"Walking outside for a day and eating food repeatedly are two different things. This is why they're
going to have to take some decisions quickly in Japan to shut down and stop food being used
completely from zones which they feel might be affected," WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.
In a travel warning, the State Department offered potassium iodide to its staff in Japan as a
precaution but advised its employees to refrain from taking the compound at this time. The
government says it is making potassium iodide available "out of an abundance of caution" to its
personnel and family members, and the compound should only be consumed after specific
instruction from the U.S. government.
The troubles at Fukushima have in some ways overshadowed the natural catastrophe, threatening a
wider disaster if the plant spews more concentrated forms of radiation than it has so far.
The nuclear safety agency and Tokyo Electric reported significant progress over the weekend and
Monday. Electrical teams, having finished connecting three of the plant's six units, were working to
connect the rest by Tuesday, the utility said.
Once done, however, pumps and other equipment have to be checked and the reactors cleared of
dangerous gas before the power can be restored. For instance, a motorized pump to inject water
into Unit 2's overheated reactor and spent fuel storage pool needs to be replaced, said Nishiyama,
the official with NISA.
The World Bank said in a report Monday that Japan may need five years to rebuild from the
disasters, which caused up to $235 billion in damage, saying the cost to private insurers will be up
to $33 billion and that the government will spend $12 billion on reconstruction in the current
national budget and much more later.
All told, police estimate around 18,400 people died from the 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami.

More than 15,000 deaths are likely in Miyagi, the prefecture that took the full impact of the wave,
said a police spokesman.
Police in other parts of the disaster area declined to provide estimates, but confirmed about 3,400
deaths. Nationwide, official figures show the disasters killed more than 8,800 people and left more
than 12,600 missing, but those two lists may have some overlap.
The disasters have displaced another 452,000, who are in shelters.
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