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Japan seeks French, US expertise in nuclear crisis

world Updated: Apr 01, 2011 14:52 IST

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Japan is increasingly turning to other countries for help as it struggles to stabilise its tsunami-stricken nuclear plant and stop radiation leaks that are complicating efforts to recover the bodies of some of the thousands swept away by the towering wave.

French, American and international experts even a robot are either in Japan or on their way, and French President Nicholas Sarkozy visited Tokyo on Thursday to meet with the prime minister and show solidarity.

Workers are racing to find the source of contaminated water that has been pooling in the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The leaks have often forced workers to flee the plant, preventing them from restarting important cooling systems.

"The amount of water is enormous, and we need any wisdom available," said nuclear safety agency spokesman Hidehiko Nishiyama.

A spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said today that radioactive contamination in groundwater 15 yards (meters) under one of six reactors there had been measured at 10,000 times the government standard. It was the first time the utility has released statistics for groundwater near the plant.

The government did not say what the standard is but the elevated levels would only be an issue if contamination got into the water supply, and spokesman Naoyuki Matsumo said the water supply has not been affected. Also, no one is living there because everyone within 20 kilometers of the plant has been evacuated.

Still, elevated levels of iodine-131, a radioactive substance that decays quickly, were another sign that radiation is leaking from the plant.

Experts from French nuclear giant Areva, which supplied fuel to the plant, are helping figure out how to dispose of the contaminated water that has begun leaking into the ground and the sea.

"We are not a supplier only for happy days," CEO Anne Lauvergeon told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday. "We are effectively also there when things become difficult."

Officials from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said they welcome the help.

"US nuclear plants aren't by the ocean, unlike Japanese ones, so we think the French may be able to help us more than the Americans," said TEPCO Manager Teruaki Kobayashi.