TOKYO, April 2 (Reuters) - Japan's prime minister made his first visit to the country's tsunami-devastated region today as the operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear complex said it had found radioactive water leaking into the sea from a cracked concrete pit.
In a discovery regulators said might explain the radioactive water that has hobbled efforts to quell Japan's nuclear crisis, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said the radiation in the pit at its No.2 reactor in Fukushima measured 1,000 millisieverts per hour.
“With radiation levels rising in the seawater near the plant, we have been trying to confirm the reason why, and in that context, this could be one source,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
He cautioned, however, “We can't really say for certain until we've studied the results.”
TEPCO is preparing to pour concrete into the pit to stop the leak, added Nishiyama.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan spoke with refugees living in a makeshift camp in the fishing village of Rikuzentakata, levelled by the tsunamis which struck on March 11 when Japan was rocked by a massive earthquake, leaving 28,000 dead and missing.
“It will be kind of a long battle, but the government will be working hard together with you until the end. I want everyone to do their best, too,” Kan told one survivor in a school that was now an evacuation shelter.
Despite its tsunami seawalls, Rikuzentaka was flattened into a wasteland of mud and debris and most of its 23,000 residents killed or injured, many swept away by the waves.
“A person that used to have a house near the coast told me 'Where am I supposed to build a house after this?', so I encouraged this person and said the government will provide support until the end,” Kan told reporters.
Unpopular and under pressure to quit or call a snap poll before the disaster, Kan has been criticised for his management of Japan's humanitarian and nuclear crisis and his leadership remains in question.
“There are some evacuation centres that lack electricity and water. There are people who can't even go look for the dead. I want him to pay attention to them,” said Kazuo Sato, a 45-year-old fisherman.
Kan later entered the 20-km (12-mile) evacuation zone and visited J-village just inside the zone, a sports facility serving as the headquarters for emergency teams trying to cool the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi plant.