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Japan radiation 'still too high'

Readings from a robot which entered two crippled buildings at Japan's tsunami-flooded nuclear plant for the first time in more than a month have displayed a harsh environment still too radioactive for workers to enter.

Nuclear officials said the radiation readings for Unit 1 and Unit 3 at the tsunami-flooded Fukushima Dai-ichi plant do not alter plans for stabilising the complex by the end of the year under a "road map" released by the plant operator yesterday.

Workers have not gone inside the two reactor buildings since the first days after the plant's cooling systems were damaged by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11. Hydrogen explosions in both buildings in the first few days destroyed their roofs and littered them with radioactive debris.

A US-made robot haltingly entered the two buildings on Sunday and took readings for temperature, pressure and radioactivity. More data must be collected and radioactivity must be further reduced before workers are allowed inside, said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

"It's a harsh environment for humans to work inside," he said.

It is still possible, he added, to achieve plant operator Tokyo Electric Power's (Tepco's) goal of achieving a cold shutdown of the plant within six to nine months as laid out in a timetable the company announced on Sunday.

"I do believe we must be creative to come up with ways to achieve our goals," Mr Nishiyama said. "I still think the plan... is as appropriate as we can get at the moment."

As work continued inside the plant to reduce radiation levels and stem leaks into the sea, the Defence Ministry said it would send about 2,500 soldiers to join the hundreds of police, fitted with protective suits, who are searching for bodies in tsunami debris around the plant.

Pressure has been building on the government and Tepco to resolve Japan's worst-ever nuclear power accident, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan is facing calls for his resignation.

Tepco's president, Masataka Shimizu, looked visibly ill at ease as politicians heckled and taunted him.


From Belfast Telegraph