The Tokyo Electric Power Co. today confirmed the first tsunami-related deaths at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex: a 21-year-old and a 24-year-old who were working when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.
"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.
The two workers may have run into a basement turbine room when the deadly wave hit the plant, according to The Associated Press.
Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told The Associated Press today that cleanup of the nuclear facility may be prolonged, as officials seek new alternatives to stop the leakage of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.
"It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future," Nishiyama said. "We'll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end."
Radioactive water has been spilling into the Pacific Ocean from a crack in a maintenance pit discovered Saturday at the distressed nuclear complex.
Engineers today used a mix of sawdust, shredded newspaper and an expanding polymer to try to seal the crack. TEPCO is also devising a third plan in case the polymer injection does not plug the crack, which will be more apparent on Monday.
A representative for TEPCO said Saturday that attempts to plug the crack with fresh concrete did not reduce the amount of water leaking from the reactor.
The crack was discovered on the edge of the plant, Nishiyama said. It was most likely caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the coast of Japan and the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex, according to the AP.
"This could be one of the sources of seawater contamination," Nishiyama said. "There could be other similar cracks in the area, and we must find them as quickly as possible."
The air above the radioactive water in the pit was measuring 1,000 millisieverts of radiation per hour on Saturday, according to Nishiyama. Risk of cancer is greatly increased by exposure to 500 millisieverts over a short period of time.
According to TEPCO, the water is coming from a pit holding power cables near the water intake inside the reactor.
Even large amounts of radiation have little effect on a body of water as vast as the Pacific Ocean, and experts have said the radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex will be quickly diluted.
Radiation has spread into water 25 miles south of the plant, according to measurements released Saturday. Over a week ago, iodine-131 at concentrations higher than the legal limit was detected in waters close to the facility.
Plant workers racing to stabilize the facility are the most likely to have been exposed to radiation. Residents within 12 miles of the plant have been evacuated.
Meanwhile, international nuclear experts said that melted fuel in reactor No. 1 has caused a "localized criticality," which is a small, uncontrolled chain reaction that occasionally emits a burst of heat, radiation and a blue flash of light.
It is not a threat to the area at large, officials say, but could be deadly for workers.
One worker from inside the plant spoke anonymously about safety concerns, such as not having enough radiation-detection devices available for workers. The devices alert workers of too much exposure.
"Since the number of monitors is limited, only one or two devices are handed to each group," the worker said. "But sometimes you have to move away from that person and in that case you'll never know the level of your exposure."
He said workers are worried about their health.
"Some workers called it quits and just left for home," he said. "My gut feeling is that I want to get it over with and get out of here."
Officials at TEPCO said workers have had to work under harsh conditions.
They have since acknowledged the problem and promised more detection devices for their workers.
"They sleep on the floor, inside a conference room, or even in the hallway or in front of a bathroom," said Kazuma Yokota, head of the Fukushima local office of NISA. "That's where they sleep, with only one blanket each to wrap themselves around."
Former plant workers living in a shelter just outside Tokyo, more than 100 miles away, said that some people have been offered jobs to go back and help contain the leak.
"They're exchanging money with their lives," one worker said. "There may be people who will take the offer, but it's not worth the risk."
So far 12,000 deaths have been confirmed in Japan following the earthquake, and another 15,500 people are missing.