UN chief heads to Japan as nuclear crisis simmers

Tokyo: UN chief Ban Ki-moon arrives in Japan on Sunday, where he plans to visit the Fukushima nuclear disaster zone, as the crippled atomic power plant simmers and a food safety scare deepens.

The secretary-general will visit hard-hit Fukushima prefecture this evening as one of the most senior foreign leaders to go to the area after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11 triggered the catastrophe.

Tomorrow, Ban will meet some of the 85,000 people who have evacuated to shelters from areas around the plant after what has become the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

"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," Ban told Japanese journalists last week.

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.

Ban plans to visit Haragama beach at Soma, 25 miles (40 km) north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant that continues to gush radiation. A 20-kilometre exclusion zone around the battered facility prevents going much nearer.

His visit has made Japanese officials nervous.

Lethal hotspots were detected inside the crippled nuclear plant last week with radiation so high that it would kill a person within weeks if they were exposed to it for even one hour.