Image: Water gushes from crack at nuke plant
TEPCO via AFP - Getty Images
Water gushes from a crack in a pit at Japan's stricken nuclear plant. Engineers first tried concrete and are now trying a mix of chemicals, sawdust and newspaper to plug it.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/3/2011 7:12:48 PM ET 2011-04-03T23:12:48

The effort to contain Japan's nuclear crisis on Sunday came to this: Engineers mixed together sawdust, shredded newspapers and chemicals used in diapers in the hopes that would plug a radioactive leak into the sea.

A first stab at the desperate experiment failed, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said.

"We were hoping the polymers would function like diapers but are yet to see a visible effect," said NISA spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama.

Engineers mixed nearly 20 pounds of a chemical absorbent, 130 pounds of sawdust and three garbage bags of shredded newspapers into pipes leading to a pit connected to the Unit 2 reactor, NISA stated.

The absorbent — like those used to soak liquid in diapers — can expand to 50 times its normal size when combined with water.

Engineers were stirring the mix in an attempt to get it to expand. They expected to know by Monday morning if it would work.

Earlier, a concrete patchfailed to stop the tainted water spewing from a crack in the pit.

The Fukushima Da-ichi plant has been leaking radioactivity since the March 11 tsunami carved a path of destruction along Japan's northeastern coast, killing as many as 25,000 people and knocking out key cooling systems that kept it from overheating. People living within 12 miles of the plant have been forced to abandon their homes.

The government said Sunday it will be several months before the radiation stops and permanent cooling systems are restored. Even after that happens, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it.

"It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future," said NISAspokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama. "We'll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end."

His agency said the timetable is based on the first step, pumping radioactive water into tanks, being completed quickly and the second, restoring cooling systems, being done within a matter of weeks or months.

Every day brings some new problem at the plant, where workers have often been forced to retreat from repair efforts because of high radiation levels. On Sunday, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced it had found the bodies of two workers missing since the tsunami.

Radiation, debris and explosions kept workers from finding them until Wednesday, and then the announcement was delayed several days out of respect for their families.

TEPCO officials said they believed the workers ran down to a basement to check equipment after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that preceded the tsunami. They were there when the massive wave swept over the plant.

"It pains us to have lost these two young workers who were trying to protect the power plant amid the earthquake and tsunami," TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

On Saturday, workers discovered an 8-inch crack in a maintenance pit at Unit 2 and said they believe water from it may be the source of some of the high levels of radioactive iodine that have been found in the ocean for more than a week.

This is the first time they have found radioactive water leaking directly into the sea. A picture released by TEPCO shows water shooting some distance away from a wall and splashing into the ocean, though the amount is not clear. No other cracks have been found.

The radioactive water dissipates quickly in the ocean but could be dangerous to workers at the plant.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people are still living in shelters, 200,000 households do not have water, and 170,000 do not have electricity.

Running water was just restored in the port city of Kesennuma on Saturday, and residents lined up Sunday to see a dentist who had flown in from the country's far north to offer his services. Many were elderly and complaining of problems with their dentures.

Overhead and throughout the coastal region, helicopters and planes roared by as U.S. and Japanese forces finished their all-out search for bodies.

The effort, which ended Sunday, is probably the final hope for retrieving the dead, though limited operations may continue. It has turned up nearly 50 bodies in the past two days.

In all, more than 12,000 deaths have been confirmed, and another 15,500 people are missing.

Two missing Fukushima nuclear plant workers were found dead on Sunday as more highly radioactive water spilled into the sea and authorities struggled to seal the leak.

The two workers — a 21-year-old and a 24-year-old — had been missing since a massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami, but their bodies were discovered only last week at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

"It pains me that these two young workers were trying to protect the power plant while being hit by the earthquake and tsunami," Tokyo Electric Power Co. Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Search for Japan survivors suspended

  1. Closed captioning of: Search for Japan survivors suspended

    >>> government officials in japan said today it may take months before leaking radiation can be stopped at that crippled nuclear power plant . at the same time, the search for thousands still missing after last month's earthquake and tsunami has come to an end. nbc's lee cowan with the latest now from tokyo .

    >> reporter: it is over. the massive search by air and by sea involving a huge presence of u.s. military personnel was officially suspended today after finding only a tiny fraction of the thousands of bodies who are still missing. but as one u.s. effort ends, another begins. more marines arrived in japan today , those specializing in nuclear emergency response. and they may have their hands full before they know t engineers at the crippled nuclear power plant revealed today that they don't have the equipment they need to monitor high levels of radiation, which casts doubt on just how accurate their measurements have been. it is especially unsettling given what they call highly radioactive water has been gushing into the pacific ocean . over the last 24 hours , engineers have tried everything to stop it including burying the crack in concrete. when that didn't work, they switched to a witch's brew of a chemical mixed with newspaper and saw dust, that they hope will swell and plug the pipes. the problem, the more fresh water pumped from barges into cooler reactors, the more radioactive water is expected to leak out, a cycle that will persist for months, experts now say, which makes finding a place to store it all that much more critical. just about everything is on the table, including the possibility of pumping that radioactive water into tankers. that creates a whole other set of problems. for starters, what to do with the contaminated cargo once it's on board. it's the kind ofeconda contamination that forced protesters into the streets of tokyo again today, demanding an end to nuclear power . the legacy of this disaster likely will be the coastline that has been erased and all the residents that will forever be missing. lee cowan, nbc news, tokyo .

Photos: After Japan's earthquake and tsunami - week 8

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  1. A radiation measuring instrument is seen next to some residents in Kawauchimura, a village within the 12- to 18-mile zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, on April 28. Most residents of Kawauchimura have evacuated in order to avoid the radiation, but some remain in the area of their own accord. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A brazier heats the house of Masahiro Kazami, located within a 12-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, April 28. (Koichi Kamoshida / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volunteers help clean a cemetery at Jionin temple in Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, northeastern Japan, on April 29. Many volunteers poured into the disaster-hit region at the beginning of the annual Golden Week holiday. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Japanese government adviser Toshiso Kosako is overcome with emotion during a news conference on April 29 in Tokyo announcing his resignation. The expert on radiation exposure said he could not stay on the job and allow the government to set what he called improper radiation limits for elementary schools in areas near the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear plant. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Fuel rods are seen inside the spent fuel pool of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reactor 4 on April 30. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A volunteer girl from Tokyo works to clean the debris of a house in Higashimatsushima, northern Japan, on April 30. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Farmer Tsugio Sato tends to his Japanese pear trees in Fukushima city, May 1. He said he expects to harvest the pears in October. Farmers and businesses face so-called "fuhyo higai," or damages stemming from the battered reputation of the Fukushima brand. (Hiro Komae / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ruriko Sakuma, daughter of dairy farmer Shinji Sakuma, rubs a cow at their farm in the village of Katsurao in Fukushima prefecture on May 3. Thousands of farm animals died of hunger in the weeks following the quake. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Map: Japan earthquake

  1. Above: Map Japan earthquake
  2. Image: The wave from a tsunami crashes over a street in Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture in northeastern Japan
    Ho / Reuters
    Timeline Crisis in Japan
  3. Interactive Japan before and after the disaster

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