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Foreign experts help stricken Japan

Japan is increasingly turning to other countries for help as it struggles to stabilise its tsunami-stricken nuclear plant and stop radiation leaks that are complicating efforts to recover the bodies of some of the thousands swept away by the towering wave.

French, American and international experts are either in Japan or on their way, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has visited Tokyo to meet prime minister Naoto Kan and show solidarity.

Workers are racing to find the source of contaminated water that has been pooling in the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The leaks have often forced workers to flee the plant, preventing them from restarting important cooling systems.

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

A spokesman for plant operator Tokyo Electric Power said radioactive contamination in groundwater 15 yards under one of six reactors there had been measured at 10,000 times the government standard.

But spokesman Naoyuki Matsumo said the company does not believe any drinking water supply is affected by the elevated levels of iodine-131, a radioactive substance that decays quickly, with half disappearing in eight days.

Experts from French nuclear giant Areva, which supplied fuel to the plant, are helping determine how to dispose of the contaminated water that has begun leaking into the ground and the sea. "We are not a supplier only for happy days," CEO Anne Lauvergeon said. "We are effectively also there when things become difficult."

Officials from the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co, said they welcome the help. "US nuclear plants aren't by the ocean, unlike Japanese ones, so we think the French may be able to help us more than the Americans," said Tepco manager Teruaki Kobayashi.

Officials at the company also said they expect to use a remote-controlled robot sent by the US within a few days to evaluate areas with high radiation. They are also setting up a panel of Japanese and American nuclear experts and American military personnel to address the crisis.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the tsunami and magnitude-9.0 earthquake. Some saw their homes destroyed by the wall of water, while others have been ordered to leave a 12-mile zone around the plant because of radiation leaks.

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