Okuma: Media have been allowed into Japan`s tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time on Saturday after the disaster in March touched off the world`s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
Representatives of the Japanese and international media, including a news agency, were allowed into the plant with the government`s chief official in charge of the crisis.
Officials said the situation at the plant, which suffered meltdowns and explosions after it was deluged by the March 11 tsunami, has improved enough to allow the visit, though reporters had to wear full-body protective gear and submit to radiation scans afterward.
The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, was severely damaged by the tsunami and spewed large amounts of radioactive materials onto the surrounding countryside, much of which remains off-limits.
The media was allowed to view the grounds of the sprawling seaside facility and the outside of several of the damaged reactor units before being taken into the emergency operations center. Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, who heads the government`s nuclear response efforts, addressed workers inside the center.
The tour, which lasted several hours, was intended to demonstrate how much the situation at the plant has stabilized in the eight months since the tsunami.
Japan`s government and the utility that runs the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., say radiation leaks are far less of a danger than they were in the early days of the crisis. They say work is on track toward achieving a "cold shutdown" — in which the temperatures of the reactors are cool and under control.
But the government has predicted that it will take another 30 years at least to safely remove the nuclear fuel and decommission the plant. It could also be decades before tens of thousands of residents forced to flee the 12-mile (20-kilometer) exclusion zone around the plant will be able to return. Some experts say even that estimate is optimistic.