Rikuzentakata fire chief: ‘I spend all day looking for the bodies of my firemen’
Electricity has been restored to three reactors at the Japanese nuclear plant wrecked by fire and explosions after the 11 March quake and tsunami.
However the cooling systems are not yet operating, and the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, says the situation remains very serious.
Some workers at the stricken facility were evacuated on Monday after smoke was seen rising from reactor No 3.
The official death toll from the twin disaster has now risen to 8,450.
Nearly 13,000 people are still missing.
Engineers have restored power to three reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and hope to test water pumps soon.
Workers have been battling to cool reactors and spent fuel ponds to bring the radiation-leaking plant under control.
A plant spokesman says some workers were evacuated from the complex after smoke or vapour was seen rising from the No 3 reactor.
Villagers living near the plant have been told not to drink tap water due to higher levels of radioactive iodine.
“There have been some positive developments in the last 24 hours but overall the situation remains very serious,” said Graham Andrew, a senior IAEA official.
“We consider that now we have come to a situation where we are very close to getting the situation under control,” Deputy Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama said.
The BBC’s Chris Hogg in Tokyo says the government is expected to announce new measures later to try to prevent produce and goods containing radiation reaching the market.
Over the weekend spinach and milk produced near the Fukushima nuclear plant was found to contain levels of radioactive iodine far higher than the legal limits, although not at levels that would be a risk to human health.
Radioactive materials three times higher than the legal safety limit were detected in the water there.
At the moment local governments are asking producers of spinach and milk in the affected areas not to send their goods to markets.
The government is considering whether additional precautions may be needed.
Bad weather forced Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan to cancel a planned visit to emergency workers near the Fukushima plant.
It is also making the recovery work a much more grim and difficult task.
Search-and-relief efforts in the prefecture of Miyagi, where the police chief believes the final quake-tsunami death toll could reach 15,000, have been delayed by driving rain.
“We basically cannot operate helicopters in the rain,” Miyagi official Kiyohiro Tokairin said.
“We have been using helicopters to deliver relief goods to some places but for today we have to switch the delivery to places that we can reach by road,” he said.
More than 350,000 people are still living in evacuation centres in northern and eastern Japan, says the BBC’s Chris Hogg.
There are shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine in the shelters, our correspondent says.
Some aid from foreign countries has started to arrive. The government has begun the process of finding temporary housing in other parts of the country for those made homeless.
Nearly 900,000 households are still without water.
In a rare piece of good news, an 80-year-old woman and her grandson were found alive in the rubble of their home in Ishinomaki city, where they were trapped for nine days.