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N-plant worker dies in mudslide

A worker has died at the Japanese nuclear plant devastated by the 2011 tsunami after getting buried in a mudslide, in the first death from an accident during efforts to control and decommission the facility.

The man, who had been working near a storage area at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, was dug out and rushed to hospital, but was unconscious and his heart had stopped beating.

Three hours after the mudslide swallowed him, the man, in his 50s, was pronounced dead at the hospital, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co, the utility that operates the plant.

"Some danger is always involved," company spokesman Masayuki Ono told reporters. "We are deeply sorry."

Three reactors went into meltdown and exploded after the tsunami in March 2011 damaged the plant's cooling system.

Thousands of workers, wearing masks and suits to guard against radiation, are working on the clean-up and decommissioning, which is expected to take decades.

Workers have collapsed from heat and ailments, but this was the first fatal accident involving a plant employee since two workers went missing after the tsunami hit the plant. Those workers were later found dead.

The worker who died had been carrying out what is similar to regular construction work in a hole in the ground when mud and pieces of concrete collapsed on him, TEPCO said.

The specific cause of death is still under investigation, and the man's name was not disclosed.

The worker was employed at one of the layers of subcontractor companies that supply labour to TEPCO. Workers' exposure to radiation is monitored, and they must quit when they reach the annual limit.

TEPCO said six workers have died while working at the plant over the last three years, including three from heart attacks and one from leukaemia, but none related to radiation exposure.

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