France and U.S. to help Japan in nuclear crisis - Sarkozy
plans to visit Tokyo Thursday?
March 29, 2011
France and U.S. to help Japan in nuclear crisis ~ Sarkozy
pans to visit Tokyo Thursday (?)
France and the United States are to help Japan in its battle
to contain radiation from a crippled nuclear complex where
plutonium finds have raised public alarm over the world's
worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
The high-stakes operation at the Fukushima plant has added
to Japan's unprecedented humanitarian disaster with 27,500
people dead or missing from a March 11 earthquake and
tsunami. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who chairs the
G20 and G8 blocs of nations, plans to visit Tokyo on
He will be the first foreign leader in Japan since the
disaster. In further support, France flew in two experts
from its state-owned nuclear reactor maker Areva and its CEA
nuclear research body to assist Japan's heavily-criticized
plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO). A global
leader in the industry, France produces about 75 percent of
its power from reactors so it has a strong interest in
helping Japan get through the Fukushima disaster.
The United States is also weighing in to send some
radiation-detecting robots to Japan to help explore the
reactor cores and spent fuel pools, the Energy Department
said. With evidence mounting of radiation inside and beyond
the plant, public fears rose a notch with Tuesday's
announcement of plutonium traces in soil at five places
within the facility. A by-product of atomic reactions and a
prime ingredient in nuclear bombs, plutonium is highly
carcinogenic and one of the most dangerous substances on the
planet, experts say.
Japan said, however, that only two of the plutonium traces
had likely come from the plant, probably from overheating
spent fuel rods or damage to reactor No. 3, with the others
being particles in the atmosphere from past nuclear testing
abroad. The levels, of up to 0.54 becquerels per kg, were
not considered harmful, Japanese officials said.
The U.N. atomic agency IAEA agreed. "Concentrations reported
for both, plutonium-238 and plutonium-239/240, are similar
to those deposited in Japan as a result of the testing of
nuclear weapons," said its latest briefing.
First rattled by the earthquake and then engulfed by a giant
wave, the Fukushima plant resembles a bomb site, with steam
and smoke occasionally rising from mangled pipes and twisted
steel. Plant operator TEPCO is under enormous pressure,
criticized for safety lapses and a slow disaster response.
Its shares are down almost 75 percent since the quake --
hitting a 47-year low on Tuesday -- and there is talk of a
state takeover. RISING ANGER The government, too, is taking