TOKYO — The chairman of the utility that runs the crippled Fukushima power plant on Wednesday said the facility's four tsunami-battered reactors would have to be scrapped, and he apologized to the Japanese public for the nuclear disaster.
Tsunehisa Katsumata, chairman of the Tokyo Electric Power Co., expressed his deep remorse for the accident at Fukushima in northern Japan, including explosions, the release of radiation and contamination of crops and tap water. Although Katsumata referred only to scrapping reactors No. 1 through 4, government officials and other experts have been saying for more than a week that the entire complex, including the less problematic reactors 5 and 6, eventually would have to be decommissioned.
Katsumata's remarks came as authorities working to bring the battered plant under control said they were considering new methods to limit radiation leakages from the facility, including draping some kind of large tarp or cloth over the reactors and applying resin or glue to the ground to prevent contamination of the soil.
Experts are also mulling whether radioactive water that has flooded parts of the facility could be sucked up and placed in a barge.
Radioactive material continues to seep from the plant. The government's nuclear agency said Wednesday that radioactive iodine-131 had been detected at 3,355 times the legal limit in seawater several hundred yards from the Fukushima plant. That's the highest such concentration recorded at sea to date, but specialists said the material's half short life and the diluting effect of the ocean meant there was negligible concern about the impact on human health.
Eventually, Katsumata said, the Fukushima plant could be entombed in concrete. Chief Cabinet secretary Yukio Edano cautioned later that that was but one option being considered. "We should look at all the options," he said.
People living within 12 miles of the plant have been told to leave their homes, while those living between 12 and 18 miles have been urged to move out or stay indoors.
Asked at a news conference how the central government would respond to the Fukushima prefectural governor's request to force people living 12 and 18 miles of the plant to evacuate from the area, Edano said: "We are considering the government's request."
Katsumata's public appearance came after the company announced that its president, Masataka Shimizu, had been hospitalized for high blood pressure and dizziness. Shimizu has been absent from the public eye for several weeks, leaving other company executives to address the public.
Experts from the French utility Areva arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday to advise on the situation at Fukushima, expanding the team of international specialists now consulting on the situation. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko came to Tokyo earlier in the week.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit Japan on Thursday and hold a news conference with Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
Meanwhile, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko made their first visit to evacuees Wednesday, appearing at a sports complex in Tokyo where several hundred people, many from near Fukushima, are taking shelter.
The emperor, wearing a green Windbreaker, and the empress, in a teal-blue wrap and white turtleneck, walked around the gymnasium and paused to kneel on mats where evacuees sleep to chat for a few moments and express their concern.
Edano said Wednesday that the prime minister's office had begun publishing a newspaper to distribute to shelters to keep evacuees better informed about what the government was doing to help them. Such papers are necessary, he said, because many elderly evacuees cannot search out information on computers and even those who can are still facing power shortages.
The death toll from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami on Wednesday stood at 11,632, the National Police Agency said, with more than 16,000 people still listed as missing.