Image: Vending machine in tsunami zone
Vincent Yu  /  AP
A vending machine stands intact in the area devastated by the  tsunami in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, northern Japan, on Saturday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 4/10/2011 5:37:30 AM ET 2011-04-10T09:37:30

Japan hopes to stop pumping radioactive water into the sea Sunday, which should help ease concerns in neighboring China and South Korea over the spread of radiation from the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

But problems in restoring cooling systems at Japan's crippled nuclear plant, hit by a tsunami on March 11, mean more contaminated water may eventually be pumped into the sea if the complex again runs out of storage capacity.

Japan is struggling to regain control of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated its northeast on March 11, and is facing a major humanitarian and economic crisis.

"There are still numerous aftershocks and there is no room for complacency regarding the situation (at Fukushima Dai-ichi)," Japan's Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said it was continuing to inject nitrogen into reactors to prevent another hydrogen explosion which would spread highly radioactive material into the air.

China and South Korea have criticized Japan's handling of the nuclear crisis, with Seoul calling it incompetent, reflecting growing international unease over the month-long atomic disaster and the spread of radiation.

Anti-nuclear protests
In Tokyo, around 5,000 people took to the streets in two separate anti-nuclear protests Sunday. Some carried placards reading 'No More Fukushima' and 'No Nukes'; others danced and played musical instruments. One group of demonstrators marched to TEPCO's offices.

TEPCO apologized Saturday for the crisis.

"I would like to apologize from my heart over the worries and troubles we are causing for society due to the release of radiological materials into the atmosphere and seawater," Sakae Muto, a TEPCO vice president, told a news conference.

Japanese voting in local elections Sunday are expected to vent their anger over Prime Minister Naoto Kan's handling of the nuclear crisis, further weakening him and bolstering opponents who will try force his resignation once the crisis ends.

The unpopular Kan was already under pressure to step down before the worst disaster to hit Japan since World War Two, but analysts say he is unlikely to be dumped during the nuclear crisis, which is set to drag on for months.

Kan paid another visit to Japan's tsunami-devastated coast Sunday, promising officials in a fishing-dependent city that his government will do whatever it can to help.

Kan visited Ishinomaki, a coastal city of 163,000 people in Miyagi, one of the prefectures (states) hardest hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that killed as many as 25,000 people, destroyed miles of coastline and left tens of thousands homeless.

"The government will do its utmost to help you," Kan, dressed in blue work clothes, told local people gathered near the sea. "We will support you so that you can resume fishing."

Slow recovery
Ishinomaki Mayor Hiroshi Kameyama told him the government needs to quickly build temporary homes for the 17,000 city residents who lost theirs and are living in shelters. More than 2,600 people from Ishinomaki were killed in the disaster and another 2,800 are missing. Boats were also destroyed, crippling the fishing industry that accounts for 40 percent of the city's economy.

Meanwhile, 250,000 households in northern Japan were still without running water and electricity Sunday. Some have not had it since the tsunami, while others lost it in a magnitude-7.1 aftershock Thursday that killed three people and rattled nerves, but did not cause extensive damage.

While Kan was visiting Ishinomaki, Japanese and U.S. troops fanned out along the coast in another all-out search for bodies by land, air and sea.

Television news showed them using heavy equipment to lift a boat washed inland by the tsunami so they could search a crushed car underneath. No one was inside.

"A month after the earthquake and tsunami, many people are still missing," said Japanese defense ministry spokesman Norikazu Muratani. "We would like to do our utmost to find bodies for their families."

Only 13,000 deaths have been confirmed so far, and many bodies have likely washed out to sea and will never be found.

A similar three-day search with even more troops a week ago found just 70 bodies, underscoring the difficulties of locating victims in the ocean and the debris along the coast.

In coastal Fukushima on Sunday, a middle-aged man watched as soldiers in scuba gear dove underwater. He hoped they would locate his younger brother, a fisherman who was swept away.

"He must be trapped in the boat," the man told public broadcaster NHK, which did not identify him. "I'm just praying soldiers will find him."

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Cell video shows tsunami hitting nuclear plant

  1. Closed captioning of: Cell video shows tsunami hitting nuclear plant

    >>> and japan is easing some restrictions put in place after radiation started to leak from the crippled nuclear plant . let's go live to tokyo. charles hadlock joins us. charles , these are significant changes in restrictions given that it is affecting milk and spinach as you told me earlier?

    >> reporter: that's right. remember in the early days of the crisis, milk and spinach were showing signs of radiation in the farms near the fukushima plant. now the government says it has been testing the products coming off the farms, and they've been free and clear of significant radiation for the last three weeks, so the government now says those products are now safe to sell and consume in japan. i want to show you some of the latest video that's come in. this is from the moment the tsunami hit the fukushima plant. it was taken by a plant worker, who fled after the earthquake hit. his cell phone captures the moment that 45-foot wave slams into the 25-foot sea wall around the plant, creating a plume of sea water that shoots straight into the air. dramatic video, something we haven't seen before of the moment the tsunami hit that crippled fukushima plant.

    >> all right, charles . more incredible video. thank you very much.

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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Timeline: Crisis in Japan

How events have unfolded since a 9.0 earthquake struck northeast Japan, triggering a deadly tsunami and nuclear power disaster.

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

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