Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), operator of Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, is seeking help from France to tackle the "critical" situation, Industry Minister Eric Besson said Monday.

"TEPCO, for the first time, I'm pleased to say ... has asked for help from French industrial concerns," the minister told RTL radio, specifying French energy giant EDF, nuclear group Areva and CEA, the atomic energy commission.

Besson said the current situation at Fukushima, where highly radioactive water has leaked from a reactor turbine building following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, was "extremely critical".

The water, found in an underground tunnel linked to the number two reactor at the Fukushima plant, showed a radiation reading of more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour, a TEPCO official told reporters in Japan.

A dose that strong can cause temporary radiation sickness with nausea and vomiting for people who are exposed.

The massive earthquake and tsunami knocked out the cooling systems of the plant's six reactors, triggering explosions and fires, releasing radiation and sparking global fears of a widening disaster.

Plutonium has been detected in soil at the stricken nuclear plant.

Besson said later in the day that TEPCO had asked France "to find a certain number of specialists in treating radioactive water, contaminated water."

He said Areva would send two specialists in the recuperation and treatment of radioactive water.

"We are ready to send as many experts as necessary to support them in the difficult situation in which they find themselves," added Besson.

Areva told AFP they have had "numerous exchanges with TEPCO to provide necessary expertise."

EDF, which manages France's 58 nuclear reactors, announced on March 18 that the three groups were set to send Japan 130 tonnes of specialised equipment, including robots able to intervene in the case of a nuclear accident.

However a spokesman for Besson said TEPCO's latest request was a separate issue.

The number of people confirmed dead or listed as missing following the 9.0 magnitude quake and monster wave climbed above 28,000 on Monday, with 10,901 confirmed dead.


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