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Japan’s premier asks for closure of nuclear plant

By David McNeill

Japan’s prime minister Naoto Kan has stunned his country’s power industry by asking for the closure of its most controversial atomic plant, eight weeks after a huge earthquake and tsunami sparked the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Mr Kan said the authorities in Japan have long accepted the high probability of a major jolt underneath the Hamaoka complex, about 200km southwest of Tokyo. Some seismologists have dubbed Hamaoka the world's most dangerous nuclear power facility. Government forecasts have predicted an 87% chance of a powerful quake in the area, which sits on two major subterranean faults. A major accident would likely force the evacuation of greater Tokyo, home to 28m people.

The warnings have increased since the start of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, 250km northeast of the capital. The plant's cooling systems were destroyed by March's magnitude-9 quake and the 14-15 metre tsunami that followed. Hamaoka is presently built to withstand only an 8.5 magnitude quake and an eight-metre tsunami.

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