Thursday, March 31, 2011

MORIOKA, Japan | Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Thursday joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy in calling for independent experts to help set tougher international safety standards for nuclear energy.

In a joint press conference after their meeting in Tokyo, the leaders of two of the world’s largest nuclear power producers said safety issues will top the agenda at the Group of Eight summit in late May at Deauville, a French resort city.

Mr. Kan said Mr. Sarkozy, who chairs the G8 this year, had asked him to open the summit by speaking about Japan’s post-tsunami nuclear crisis.

“Our country’s experience of this nuclear accident is very painful,” Mr. Kan told reporters. “But to prevent a recurrence of this kind of thing, I believe that we are obliged to share this experience accurately with countries all over the world.”

Mr. Sarkozy said the problem with nuclear energy is that “there are no global common rules.”

“We need to improve safety standards, not discuss whether we should choose to stop introducing nuclear energy,” the French president said.

Mr. Sarkozy defended the need for nuclear energy as alternative energies continue to develop, but Mr. Kan said earlier on Thursday that Japan will revisit plans to build 14 reactors by 2030.

France operates 58 nuclear reactors, which produce about 80 percent of its electricity. Japan runs 55 reactors, which create about 30 percent of its electric power.

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake near Japan on March 11 caused a massive tsunami that swamped Fukushima’s nuclear reactors.

Hosting the first foreign leader to visit Japan since the tsunami, Mr. Kan made his strongest calls yet for increased international assistance, such as robots and technical experts, to help control the Fukushima power plant, which Japanese nuclear safety officials say is leaking radiation into the ocean.

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

On Thursday, Japanese scientists said they found levels of radioactive iodine 4,400 times the legal limit in the Pacific Ocean near Fukushima’s damaged reactors.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. also reported late Thursday that “extremely high” radiation levels 10,000 times the safe limit were detected in groundwater about 45 feet below Fukushima’s No. 1 reactor, but the radiation didn’t threaten drinking water.

Earlier Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said radiation in the village of Iitate, about 25 miles northwest of the nuclear plant, was high enough to require the evacuation of residents.

However, the government reiterated that it has no plans to extend the 12-mile evacuation zone around the plant.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said officials might consider expanding the evacuation zone if the high levels of radiation persist.

“If a person is exposed to the radiation levels exceeding the IAEA criteria for a long time, it might affect their health because radioactive substances could accumulate in the body,” Mr. Edano said. “If that is the case, we need to consider evacuating residents from the area.”

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