Japan ready for ‘long fight’ at nuclear plant

JAPANESE Prime Minister Naoto Kan said yesterday he was ready for a long fight to bring a quake- hit nuclear plant under control but was convinced Japan would overcome the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

“I am prepared for a long-term battle over the Fukushima nuclear plant and to win this battle,” he said in a nationally broadcast news conference three weeks after a massive earthquake and tsunami.

“We cannot say that the plant has been sufficiently stabilised. But we are preparing for all kinds of situations and I am convinced that the plant can be stabilised,” Kan said, promising a quake relief budget by the end of April.

As Tokyo Electric Power Co tries to regain control of its stricken nuclear plant in the face of mounting criticism and a huge potential compensation bill, the government was reportedly moving to take control of the utility.

Kan said the government had to “responsibly” support TEPCO as it faced obligations to compensate for the accident.

The utility may have to deal with compensation claims topping $130 billion (€91.42bn), according to one US investment bank.

Japan’s Nuclear and Industry Safety Agency (NISA) says radiation may be continuously flowing out into the sea.

Radiation 4,000 times the legal limit has been detected in seawater near the plant as contaminated water used to cool down reactor rods leaks into the ocean.

“They are throwing water on what they can’t see and hoping that they don’t get more radiation out. They are flying blind, partially, at least,” said Ed Lyman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a US nuclear safety watchdog group.

More than 172,400 people were still living in shelters around northeast Japan.

The recovery of the bodies of up to 1,000 people killed by the tsunami has been delayed by fears that they are contaminated, police told Kyodo news.

The damage bill may top $300bn, making it the world’s costliest natural disaster and raising concerns about the world’s third-biggest economy.

Japanese manufacturing activity slumped to a two-year low in March and posted the sharpest monthly fall on record as the crisis hit supply chains and output.

Japan’s government may need to spend over 10 trillion yen ($120bn) in emergency budgets for disaster relief and reconstruction, the country’s deputy finance minister, Mitsuru Sakurai, signalled on Thursday.

Nuclear workers have been offered up to 400,000 yen ($5,000) per day to work in risky high-radiation conditions inside reactors at the Fukushima plant, according to Japanese media.

The United States and Germany are sending robots to work in the highly radioactive parts of the reactors. Kyodo said around 140 US military radiation safety experts would arrive.

US nuclear workers were also being recruited to join the recovery teams at Fukushima.

Picture: Japanese soldiers lower coffins of victims at a graveyard in the city of Higashimatsushima, north-eastern Japan yesterday, three weeks after a powerful earthquake and resulting tsunami struck Japan’s north-eastern coast. Picture: AP Photo/Yomiuri Shimbun, Masamichi Genko

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