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Dye bid to track radioactive water

Workers used a milky white dye as they frantically tried to trace the path of highly radioactive water which is gushing from a tsunami-damaged Japanese nuclear plant and leaking into the sea.

A crack in a maintenance pit was found over the weekend - the latest confirmation that radioactivity continues to spill into the environment.

The leak is a symptom of the primary difficulty at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex: radioactive water is pooling around the plant and preventing workers from powering up cooling systems which would stabilise overheating reactors.

Government officials conceded on Sunday that it will probably be several months before the cooling systems are completely restored. And even then, there will be years of work ahead to clean up the area around the complex and figure out what to do with it.

Until all the pools of contaminated water are pumped to storage tanks and the cooling system restored, the makeshift methods of pumping water into the reactors and allowing it to gush out wherever it can are the only way to bring down temperatures and pressure in the reactor cores, where fuel rods continue to produce massive amounts of heat even though nuclear reactions have stopped.

"We must keep putting water into the reactors to cool to prevent further fuel damage, even though we know that there is a side effect, which is the leakage," Hidehiko Nishiyama, a spokesman for the Nuclear Safety and Industrial Agency, said.

"We want to get rid of the stagnant water and decontaminate the place so that we can return to our primary task to restore the sustainable cooling capacity as quickly as possible."

That makeshift system also complicates plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) other goal: containing the spread of radiation.

Radioactivity has spewed from the plant since March 11, when a 9.0-magnitude earthquake spawned a massive tsunami which decimated large swathes of Japan's north-eastern coast.

Up to 25,000 people are believed to have died in the disaster, and tens of thousands lost their homes. Thousands more were forced to flee a 12-mile radius around the plant because of the radiation.

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