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Japan Nuclear Plant Owner Confirms First Deaths as Workers Fail to Contain Leak

April 2: In this photo, leaking radioactive contaminated water drains through a crack of a maintenance pit, right, into the sea, near the Unit 2 reactor of Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan. Highly radioactive water was leaking into the sea Saturday from a crack discovered at the nuclear power plant destabilized by last month's earthquake and tsunami, a new setback as frustrated survivors of the disasters complained that Japan's government was paying too much attention to the nuclear crisis. (AP/TEPCO/Kyodo News)

The owner of Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant confirmed the first deaths at the facility Sunday -- two workers who went missing after the March 11 tsunami, whose bodies were found earlier this week.

A Tokyo Electric Power Co. spokesman said the bodies were found Wednesday. The announcement was delayed out of consideration for the families, he said.

"It pains me that these two young workers were trying to protect the power plant while being hit by the earthquake and tsunami," Tokyo Electric Power Co. Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata said in a statement.

The two workers, aged 21 and 24, sustained multiple external injuries and were believed to have died from blood loss, TEPCO said. Their bodies were decontaminated as radiation has been spewing from the plant for three weeks.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told Kyodo News Sunday that it could be "months" before radiation is contained at the nuclear complex. Edano added that a "long battle" to contain the crisis was inevitable.

"It would take a few months until we finally get things under control and have a better idea about the future," said Hidehiko Nishiyama, nuclear safety agency spokesman. "We'll face a crucial turning point within the next few months, but that is not the end."

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.

Highly radioactive water is still gushing into the Pacific from Japan's tsunami-crippled nuclear plant despite efforts to stop it with a chemical substance mixed with sawdust and shredded newspaper.

Nuclear safety agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama said the polymer mix has not yet sealed the crack in a maintenance pit that is spewing water into the sea. Engineers have not given up and say they should know by Monday whether it will work.

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-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 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.

The Associated Press and NewsCore contributed to this report.