TOKYO — Crews at the heavily damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant reached a milestone Tuesday as they finished connecting external power to all six of the facility’s reactors.
Workers were going to test the plant’s internal electrical and cooling systems to see whether they can cool the overheated reactors and prevent further meltdown and releases of radiation.
Crews have been using external pumps to send seawater into three of the facility’s six reactors after the cooling systems failed following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Concerned that the highly corrosive seawater might have damaged equipment, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), was “checking each electrical device on each unit,” said Taro Ishida, a representative of the Federation of Electric Power Companies in Japan, an industry group in Washington.
In the meantime, the power company resumed rolling blackouts in many areas of Japan in an effort to conserve energy.
On Tuesday, 11 days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck off the coast of Sendai in northeastern Japan, the National Police Academy said that 9,080 people had been killed and that 13,561 were missing.
There were four sizable aftershocks in Tokyo on Tuesday, including one at lunchtime large enough to trigger an early-warning system of TV and cellphone alerts.
With reconstruction costs pegged by the World Bank at up to $235 billion, Japanese government officials pledged to pump public money into the relief effort. The Kyodo News agency reported that Koichiro Gemba, the national policy minister, said three supplementary budgets could be needed in fiscal 2011 to fund the reconstruction effort.
In the battle to limit radiation from pools of uranium fuel, concrete-pumping trucks turned their spindlelike arms on unit 4 and sprayed seawater directly into that reactor’s fuel pool. Meanwhile, water guns from the Tokyo fire department sprayed the pool in unit 3. Previous efforts to cool the pools included seawater drops from helicopters.
The used fuel pools still present the “highest concern” at the facility, said Graham Andrew, a technical adviser to the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. If the pools heat up, they can emit high doses of radiation, further hindering progress. Work had been suspended the previous day because of concerns about smoke from two of the units.
At a news briefing, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that the government will analyze potential impacts on coastal fisheries, adding fish and shellfish to spinach and other vegetables on the list of foods that the government is monitoring for radioactive contamination.
Adding to concerns about the food supply, the Japanese government reported detecting radioactive fallout in seawater near the facility and in soil 25 miles away. Tepco said that concentrations of radioactive iodine-131 just south of the facility were more than 100 times higher than the legal limit.
Many of the estimated 140,000 residents who lived within 121 / 2 miles of the facility are camped in evacuation centers such as the one visited Tuesday by a high-ranking power company official, who apologized to evacuees by saying he was “sorry to have caused you trouble.”
“We will put all our efforts toward putting things under control as soon as possible,” Norio Tsuzumi, the executive vice president of Tepco, told those living at a center in Tamura City in Fukushima.
A TV broadcast showed residents of the shelter peppering Tsuzumi with comments such as: “We won’t be able to farm anymore and will lose our source of income!”
The evacuation center in Tamura City is one of hundreds that have been hastily organized to serve those displaced by the triple disaster.
In Saitama, a sprawling city north of Tokyo, about 2,300 people were sleeping in the wide hallways of the Saitama Super Arena and living off donated rice. Most come from the once-rural town of Futabamashi, next to the damaged Daiichi plant.
The government ordered everyone to evacuate Futabamashi soon after the earthquake and chartered dozens of buses to Saitama. Families from other flooded towns and areas close to the plant made their own way south as well.
A small but welcome semblance of normalcy came Tuesday for the families at the shelter; after nearly two weeks, their children could go to school.
Yukie Yamada, a professional education advocate, had heard about the shelter and offered to open a school. She brought her own worksheets and reading materials and recruited scores of volunteers, many of them retired teachers.
On the first morning, more than 80 children signed in at the makeshift classroom in the arena’s basement, each picking out assignments organized by grade level.
By afternoon, elementary students were reviewing multiplication tables with help from tutors, and middle-schoolers were practicing their English.
School is familiar for the children, organizers said, and helps take their mind off the stress of displacement and survival. At the beginning of the day there were no smiles on their faces, said Miwako Hamanaka, one of the coordinators of the makeshift school. But by the end, the youngsters were talking and having fun.
Shigeyuki Kuboki said that school was a welcome change of pace for his three daughters. They abandoned their flooded home in the town of Yotsukura 11 days ago, bringing little more than school supplies.
They hope to return and start over, Kuboki said, but not until the nearby nuclear plant stabilizes.
Meanwhile, in Vienna, the IAEA said it was not receiving complete information about the state of the nuclear facility. In the United States, political and public opinion fallout from the disaster intensified.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released excerpts of an e-mail from the National Regulatory Commission that listed California’s two nuclear power plants as the only such facilities in the United States located in “high seismic hazard” zones. For a week, Boxer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have been pressing the NRC for safety reviews of the nuclear stations at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon.
And a new survey documents declining support for nuclear power. Conducted by the nonprofit Civil Society Institute, the survey of 800 adults found that 53 percent support “a moratorium on new nuclear reactor construction in the United States,” but only if energy conservation and wind and solar power can meet the country’s energy needs. In addition, 73 percent said they opposed federal loan guarantees for new nuclear facilities.
“It’s not at all surprising that support would have slipped, given the events of the past few weeks,” said Steven Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group. “It’s going to be a challenging time for our industry, no question.”
Kerekes said the industry will continue to promote nuclear power as vital for American energy independence and for moving to a “low-carbon future.”
Vastag reported from Washington. Staff writer Michael Alison Chandler and special correspondent Tetsuya Kato in Tokyo contributed to this report.