Tanks for storing radioactive water were on their way Saturday to the crippled nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan where reactor cores melted after the massive earthquake and tsunami.
The new tanks should help prevent further environmental damage in the evacuated area around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant by providing a secure place to store the contaminated water being used to cool the reactors as workers continue their battle to bring them under control.
Radioactive water has been leaking from the plant since it was struck by the March 11 disasters, with tons having already flushed into the sea and more continuing to pool across the complex.
Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that operates the plant, has said radioactive water could start overflowing from temporary storage areas on June 20, or possibly sooner if there is heavy rainfall.
Two of the 370 tanks were due to arrive Saturday from a manufacturer in nearby Tochigi prefecture (state), TEPCO said. Two hundred of them can store 100 tons, and 170 can store 120 tons.
The tanks will continue arriving through August, and will store a total of 40,000 tons of radioactive water.
Workers have been fighting to get the plant under control since the tsunami knocked out power, destroyed backup generators and halted the crucial cooling systems for the reactors, causing the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. Several explosions have scattered radioactive debris around the plant, and reactors are puffing radiation into the air.
TEPCO also said robots with cameras that entered Unit 1 _ one of the three reactors whose cores have melted _ found Friday that steam was spewing from the floor. Nationally televised news Saturday showed blurry video of steady smoke curling up from an opening in the reactor floor.
The radioactive fumes were suspected to be coming from the suppression pool area, which is near the reactor core.
The radiation level near the smoky area reached as high as 4,000 millisieverts per hour, much too high for any human to get near that area, and confirming the formidable obstacles Fukushima workers face in fixing the problems at the reactors.
Nuclear fuel rods are believed to have melted almost completely and sunk to the bottom of three reactor containers, although falling short of a complete meltdown, in which case the fuel would have melted entirely through the container bottoms.
In one progress update, TEPCO said workers were successful in attaching additional pressure monitors at Unit 1. The plan is to keep adding pressure-reading equipment at all three hobbled reactors. The ones already there may have been damaged by the tsunami and quake, and may not be working properly.
TEPCO has promised to bring the plant under control by January, but doubts are growing that the plan was too optimistic. The plan calls for a reprocessing system for the radioactive water by June 15, with hopes of reusing the water as coolant in the reactors.
The March earthquake and tsunami left 24,000 people dead or missing, and left tens of thousands of others living in evacuation centers _ including residents near Fukushima Dai-ichi whose homes were intact but still had to leave to avoid risks of radiation exposure.
Yuri Kageyama can be reached at http://twitter.com/yurikageyama