TOKYO – A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit Japan this week to help with the massive cleanup of areas contaminated by a radiation-leaking nuclear power plant, officials said Tuesday.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the 12-member team will help plan and conduct the decontamination during its nine-day visit starting Friday. It will also visit the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, meet with Japanese nuclear officials and compile a report, he said.
A massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami damaged cooling systems at the plant, causing three reactor cores to melt and releasing large amounts of radiation. Tens of thousands of people fled their homes.
"We hope that we can move ahead with decontamination more promptly and effectively by bringing together wisdom from around the world," Fujimura said.
The team is the second major IAEA mission to Japan since the nuclear crisis began. An IAEA accident investigation team visited the tsunami-hit plant in late May and early June.
The upcoming mission will also inspect the plant and monitor decontamination experiments in farmland and other areas near the plant.
Japan lifted some evacuation advisories around the plant last week, in a move largely aimed at reassuring tens of thousands of evacuees that it is safe to return home. But the area must still be decontaminated, especially schools, playgrounds and other areas where children gather.
A 12-mile (20-kilometer) no-go zone remains in place around the plant. But the government lifted the advisories in five municipalities just outside the ring, saying the plant had been restored to a relatively stable condition, with radiation levels reaching safety standards.
Towns around the plant have begun massive efforts to decontaminate buildings and restore public services so residents can return. Tens of thousands remain in voluntary exile, and local officials say they don't expect residents to rush back because of radiation fears.
Experts say it could take decades for some of the areas nearest the plant to be safe for habitation after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., is struggling to keep the plant under control. It said last week it recently made significant progress in controlling reactor temperatures, key to achieving shutdowns.
TEPCO faces billions of dollars in compensation claims from people and businesses affected by the nuclear crisis.
A government panel said in a report Monday that TEPCO could face a capital deficit of up to 8.6 trillion yen ($112 billion) in a worst-case scenario if it is unable to restart halted nuclear reactors or raise utility fees. The panel said the utility is likely to face about 4.5 trillion yen ($60 billion) in compensation claims and will need 1.2 trillion yen ($15.8 billion) to decommission crippled reactors.
The panel recommended that TEPCO save about 2.5 trillion yen over the next 10 years by eliminating 7,400 employees or 14 percent of its work force, selling off affiliates and taking other steps.
The panel's recommendation will be incorporated into a new restructuring plan for TEPCO as it seeks public funds.