msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/5/2011 5:22:29 AM ET 2011-04-05T09:22:29

The operator of Japan's crippled nuclear power plant started paying "condolence money" Tuesday to victims of the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl as highly radioactive water continued to pour into the sea.

In desperation, engineers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have turned to what are little more than home remedies to stem the flow of contaminated water.

On Tuesday, they used "liquid glass" in the hope of plugging cracks in a leaking concrete pit.

"We tried pouring sawdust, newspaper and concrete mixtures into the side of the pit (leading to tunnels outside reactor No. 2), but the mixture does not seem to be entering the cracks," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA).

"We also still do not know how the highly contaminated water is seeping out of Reactor No. 2," said Nishiyama.

Video: Radioactive water leaks from Nuke plant

Workers are struggling to restart cooling pumps — which recycle the water — in four reactors damaged by last month's 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

Their problem is that until those are fixed, they must pump in water from outside to prevent overheating and meltdowns. The process creates more contaminated water that has to be pumped out and stored somewhere else or released into the sea.

There is a total of 60,000 tons of highly contaminated water in the plant after workers frantically poured in seawater when fuel rods experienced partial meltdown after the tsunami hit northeast Japan on March 11.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) was forced on Monday to start releasing 11,500 tons of low-level radioactive seawater after it ran out of storage capacity for more highly contaminated water. The release will continue until Friday.

Radioactive fish
Radioactive iodine-131 was found in the water by the sluice gate of reactor No. 2 at 7.5 million times the legal limit on April 2. It fell to 5 million times the legal limit on Monday.

Video: Radioactive water leaks from Nuke plant

Cesium was found at levels above safety limits in tiny "kounago" fish in waters off Ibaraki Prefecture, south of Fukushima, local media reported.

TEPCO said on Tuesday it had started paying "condolence money" to local governments to aid people evacuated from around its stricken plant or affected by the radiation crisis.

TEPCO faces a huge bill for the damage caused by its crippled reactors, but said it must first assess the extent of damage before paying actual compensation.

"We are still in discussion as to what extent we will pay on our own and to what extent we will have assistance from the government," TEPCO executive vice-president Takashi Fujimoto told a news conference.

He said TEPCO offered 20 million yen ($238,000) in condolence money to towns near the reactors whose residents were forced to evacuate.

Town refuses cash
A second TEPCO official said they offered that sum to 10 towns within the 12-mile mandatory evacuation zone but one refused to take the money.

Fujimoto, who called the cash "apology money," said that town had refused the payment because it disagreed with the approach. He did not give further details.

Slideshow: Devastation in Japan after quake (on this page)

Shares of TEPCO plunged to a record low of 363 yen on Tuesday on uncertainty over the nuclear crisis. The shares have lost more than 80 percent of their value since the quake struck.

The quake and tsunami have left nearly 28,000 people dead or missing, thousands homeless and Japan's northeast coast a wreck.

The world's costliest natural disaster has caused power blackouts and cuts to supply chains, threatening Japan's economic growth and the operations of global firms from semiconductor makers to shipbuilders.

Fujimoto said TEPCO wants to avoid having to impose rolling power blackouts in summer, when demand surges due to heavy use of air-conditioning. Analysts say blackouts could cause the biggest economic damage to Japan.

Toyota factories stall
The world's biggest auto maker Toyota Motor Corp will idle some U.S. factories due to supplies in Japan drying up.

The company, which built nearly 1.5 million cars and trucks in North America last year, said it did not know how many of its 13 plants would be affected.

The nuclear crisis alone is likely to lead to one of the country's largest and most complex ever set of claims for civil damages, handing a huge bill to the fiscally strained government and debt-laden plant operator TEPCO.

After seeking help from France and the United States, Japanese officials say they are considering asking Russia to lend it a floating radiation treatment plant used to decommission Russian submarines.

The "Suzuran," one of the world's largest liquid radioactive waste treatment plants, treats radioactive liquid with chemicals and stores it in a cement form.

TEPCO said it would also build tanks to hold contaminated seawater, was towing a floating tank which will arrive next week, and was negotiating the purchase of three more.

Engineers also plan to build two giant "silt curtains" made of polyester fabric in the sea to block the spread of more contamination from the plant.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Nuclear plant dumps radioactive water into sea

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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