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France, US to help Japan with nuclear crisis

Nuclear power giants France and the US are to help Japan in its battle to contain radiation at the Fukushima plant, where plutonium has been detected in the soil, albeit apparently at low-risk levels.

Reactor Number 4 at the Fukushima nuclear plant

Work continues to contain the outbreak of radiation

Europe's biggest nuclear energy nation, France, and the US are to help Japan in its efforts to contain radiation at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was damaged in the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is due in Tokyo on Thursday. He will be the first foreign leader to visit the Japanese capital since the disaster.

The French government also decided to fly in experts from state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva and its nuclear research body to assist Japan's plant operator TEPCO.

France derives around 75 percent of its power from atomic reactors, far more than any other European country and more than the United States, which, however, has more reactors overall.

The Energy Department in Washington said it was sending radiation-detecting robots that can go inside the core of the reactors and spent fuel pools.

The nuclear plant of Flamanville, Normandy

France gets the majority of its energy from nuclear power

Plutonium detected

The Japanese government revealed on Tuesday that highly dangerous plutonium has been found in five places in the soil at the Fukushima plant, but operator TEPCO insists the levels were not harmful to human health.

But the discovery could mean the reactor's containment mechanism has been breached, according to the country’s nuclear safety agency.

The agency also announced on Wednesday that seawater near the complex's number one reactor contained concentrations of radioactive iodine at 3,355 times the legal limit.

As a result, Japan upgraded its safety standards for nuclear power plants, the first official acknowledgement that existing norms were insufficient. The announcement came as the government conceded that there was no end in sight to the crisis.

"We are not in a situation where we can say we will have this under control by a certain period," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.

Weak leadership

Meanwhile, anger is growing at the government's management of the crisis, with opposition lawmakers lambasting Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in parliament for his handling of the crisis and for not widening the exclusion zone around the plant.

Authorities still have little idea when they will be able to stabilize the plant.

The crisis, which is the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986, has also contaminated vegetables, milk and tap water from the area.

Author: Nicole Goebel (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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