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Japan resists growing pressure to widen Fukushima exclusion zone

Japan will not immediately heed advice by the International Atomic Energy Agency to widen the evacuation zone around its Fukushima atomic plant. The announcement came ahead of a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

fire engine spraying water onto reactor

Workers are still battling to restore the reactors' cooling systems

The Japanese government said on Thursday that there were no plans at present to extend the evacuation zone around its crippled Fukushima nuclear reactor. Both the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Japan’s nuclear safety agency issued advice to that effect because of concerns over radiation.

The IAEA said radiation measured in the village of Litate, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Fukushima exceeded limits that would ordinarily require evacuation.

"We have advised [Japan] to carefully assess the situation and they have indicated that it is already under assessment," Denis Flory, a deputy director general of the IAEA, said.

Japan has ordered those within a 20-kilometer radius to leave and encouraged those up to 30 kilometers away to do the same. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, however, gave no indication the government was poised to widen the zone.

"At the moment, we have no reason to think that the radiation will have an effect on people's health," he said.

French President due

The announcement came ahead of a visit by French President Nioclas Sarkozy, who is expected to meet Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan in Tokyo on Thursday, after chairing a G20 meeting in Nanjing in China earlier in the day.

The Fukushima nuclear reactor

The Japanese Prime Minister has called for the Fukushima reactor to be scrapped

France, which is Europe's biggest nuclear energy power and, globally, derives the largest percentage of its power from nuclear energy, has flown in five experts from its state-run nuclear power firm Areva to help TEPCO, the firm that operates the Fukushima plant.

Areva, the world's biggest atomic energy firm, has been doing business with Japan since 1970. The French supply uranium and fuel rods and reprocesses used materials for Japanese atomic operators.

The US has sent robots to assist TEPCO workers battling to restore the cooling systems of the reactors in the Fukushima plant.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also offered Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan "to make available special radio-controlled equipment from Germany that can be used for clean-up and repairs of reactors," her spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement on Wednesday. Japan is considering the offer.

Meanwhile, TEPCO said on Thursday that the level of radioactive iodine in the sea near Fukushima has soared to its highest reading yet, at 4,385 times the legal limit.

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

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