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Japan opens Fukushima reactors to journalists

Japan will take a group of journalists inside the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for the first time today, stepping up its efforts to prove to the world it is in control of the disaster.

world Updated: Nov 13, 2011 01:17 IST

Japan will take a group of journalists inside the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for the first time on Saturday, stepping up its efforts to prove to the world it is in control of the disaster.

More than 30 reporters, photographers and cameramen are to go on a tour of the facility in Japan's northeast that sparked the biggest nuclear crisis since Chernobyl 25 years ago and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

Despite a series of setbacks, including the revelation last week that spontaneous fission had been detected inside a reactor that was supposed to be all but extinct, the government and plant operator TEPCO say they remain on track for a cold shutdown by the end of the year.

The tour, in which just four representatives from foreign media are being allowed to participate, is part of efforts by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) to show they are close to solving the problem.

Up to 3,300 people are taking part in the clean-up at Fukushima Daiichi, a TEPCO spokesman told journalists on Friday.

The atomic crisis at Fukushima was caused by a huge earthquake and tsunami of March 11 that left 20,000 people dead or missing.

The plant's cooling systems were knocked out and its reactors went into meltdown, sending radiation into the air, sea and food chain, and badly denting the reputation of an important power source in resource-poor Japan.

Thousands of people remain evacuated from a large surrounding area, with no indication when the many who left homes and farms in the shadow of the leaking reactors will be able to return.

With search operations hampered by nuclear contamination, police figures this month showed more than 200 people were still listed as missing in the area Fukushima.

Journalists will be accompanied for part of the tour by Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of nuclear accident settlement and prevention, who told AFP in an interview last week that cold shutdown was still the immediate priority.

"Until then, we will ensure we go on step by step without letting our guard down," he said.

On Friday, journalists were taken to J-Village, Japan's national football training centre which has been converted for use as a base for workers battling to contain the disaster.

A mountain of contaminated clothing, masks and other protective gear used by plant workers stands at the training centre, left there in plastic bags as no decision has yet been made on how to dispose of them.

On Saturday the journalists are expected to go inside the plant itself. During a tour scheduled to last just over an hour they will be shown the four reactors at the centre of the crisis.

Last week the government agreed to give TEPCO 900 billion yen ($11.5 billion) to help it pay compensation to those affected by the disaster.

The company is also expecting to receive an additional 120 billion yen under a Japanese law related to nuclear accident compensation, meaning that in total it will receive over 1.0 trillion yen.