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Tsunami killed 2 workers at Japan nuclear plant

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, center at right, bows with other officials for the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami-destroyed town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan, Saturday, April 2, 2011. Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan, center at right, bows with other officials for the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami-destroyed town of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, northern Japan, Saturday, April 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
By Ryan Nakashima and Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press / April 2, 2011

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TOKYO—The utility that runs a tsunami-crippled Japanese nuclear power plant says two workers were killed when the wave swept ashore more than three weeks ago.

Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s announcement Sunday is the first confirmation of deaths at the plant. The workers had been missing since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

Spokesman Naoki Tsunoda said the bodies were found Wednesday and had to be decontaminated. The announcement was delayed out of consideration for the families.

Radiation has been spewing from the plant since the tsunami knocked out cooling systems there, causing the reactors to dangerously overheat.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

TOKYO (AP) -- Engineers failed to seal a crack where highly radioactive water was spilling into the Pacific from a Japanese nuclear plant incapacitated by last month's tsunami, but said a search of the site found no other leaks Sunday.

A picture released by the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., shows water shooting some distance away from a wall and splashing into the sea, though the amount of water was not clear. The contaminated water will quickly dissipate in the ocean but could pose a danger to workers at the plant.

Pooling water at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex -- which is believed to ultimately come from the reactor cores -- has repeatedly forced technicians to pull back and suspend their work.

After a massive tsunami knocked out power to the plant on March 11, cooling systems failed and the reactors have been dangerously overheating since. A series of almost daily problems has led to substantial amounts of radiation leaking into the atmosphere, ground and sea in the world's worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 meltdown at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union.

The disaster carved a path of destruction up and down the northeastern coast and is believed to have left about 25,000 dead. Sunday marks the last day of an all-out joint search by the U.S. and Japanese militaries for bodies in coastal waters. The effort is probably the final hope for retrieving the dead.

So far, 12,000 deaths have been confirmed, and another 15,400 people are missing.

On Saturday, workers discovered an 8-inch- (20-centimeter-) long crack in a maintenance pit at the Fukushima plant that they said was believed to have been caused by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake that generated the wave. Water containing levels of radioactive iodine far above the legal limit spilled from it into the Pacific, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Workers flooded the pit with concrete in an effort to seal the crack but couldn't get it to dry. They plan to try polymer on Sunday, possibly creating a seal farther up in the system.

Over the past 10 days, pools of contaminated water have been found throughout the plant and high levels of radioactivity have been measured in the ocean, but this marks the first time authorities said they had found a spot where the water was directly entering the sea.

A search of the plant found no other similar leaks leading directly to the ocean. "We believe that's the only crack," said Naoki Tsunoda, a TEPCO spokesman.

People living within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the plant have been evacuated, but, as with previous leaks, it could pose a danger to workers.

A nuclear plant worker who fell into the ocean Friday while trying to board a barge carrying water to help cool the plant did not show any immediate signs of being exposed to unsafe levels of radiation, nuclear safety officials said Saturday, but they were waiting for test results to be sure.

Workers have been reluctant to talk to the media about what they are experiencing, but one who spent several days at the plant described difficult conditions in an anonymous interview published Saturday in the national Mainichi newspaper.

When he was called in mid-March to help restore power at the plant, he said he did not tell his family because he did not want them to worry. But he did tell a friend to notify his parents if he did not return in two weeks.

"I feel very strongly that there is nobody but us to do this job, and we cannot go home until we finish the work," he said.

Early on, the company ran out of full radiation suits, forcing workers to create improvised versions of items such as nylon booties they were supposed to pull over their shoes.

Radiation worries have compounded the misery for people trying to recover from the tsunami. Prime Minister Naoto Kan made his first visit to the pulverized coast on Saturday and pledged to stand by those struggling to rebuild their lives.

"The government fully supports you until the end," Kan told 250 people at an elementary school in Rikuzentakata serving as a shelter.

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Associated Press writers Eugene Hoshiko in Rikuzentakata and Mayumi Saito and Shino Yuasa in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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