New York: UN leader Ban Ki-moon sets out on Saturday on a trip to Japan, where he will become one of the most senior foreign leaders to enter the Fukushima nuclear disaster zone.
The tour, which will also take him to his native South Korea, is intended as a tribute to Japan after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11 triggered the world`s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
On Monday, Ban will visit Haragama beach at Soma, about 25 miles (40 kilometres) north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant that continues to gush radiation five months on. A 12-mile (20-kilometer) no-go zone surrounds the nuclear plant.
"Your struggle has gripped the world," Ban told Japanese reporters this week ahead of his visit.
"I wanted to come to Japan as soon as possible after the tragedy of 11 March to express the solidarity and deep sympathy that the whole world feels for the people of your great country."
An estimated 21,000 people were killed or are still missing after the quake and tsunami.
"I also want to meet in person with those who survived this tragedy and express my admiration to your government and to all the people of Japan as you are heroically working every day towards recovering from this unprecedented calamity," Ban said.
The UN chief is scheduled to visit an evacuation centre and speak with students at a high school in Fukushima City.
He will also hold meetings with Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto on Monday, according to Japanese media.
The visit has made Japanese officials nervous as lethal hotspots were detected at the crippled nuclear plant this week, with radiation so high that it would kill a person within weeks if they were exposed to it for one hour.
A food safety crisis is widening, with beef shipments banned from four regions over the past two weeks after meat was found to be contaminated with caesium that rained onto the hay that the animals were fed.
Ban has convened a nuclear safety summit for the UN General Assembly in New York in September and he is expected to reinforce his calls for tougher international standards while in Japan.
The UN leader will go on to his native South Korea on August 09 to launch a UN youth conference, the Global Model United Nations, in Incheon. He will also address an academic forum in Seoul and meet President Lee Myung-bak and Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan during his five-day stay.