A team of UN nuclear inspectors arrived in Japan yesterday to assess the condition of a nuclear power plant severely damaged in an earthquake last month, Japanese officials said.
The July 16 magnitude-6.8 quake in Niigata Prefecture killed 11 people and injured more than 1,000. It also caused numerous malfunctions and leaks at the plant -- the world's largest in terms of capacity -- and raised concerns about safety at Japan's nuclear power stations.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team, led by Philippe Jamet, director of the Nuclear Installation Safety Division, will start examining the plant today and will return to Tokyo on Friday for talks with Japanese nuclear safety officials, according to a statement by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
The team will compile a report after the inspection.
"We'll collect information and identify the lessons learned that are the most important for the international community," Jamet told reporters at Narita International Airport near Tokyo. "We're here ... to make an independent examination."
Jamet said that he and his team would try to "look at everything" but that they would have to be selective because of time constraints.
Japanese officials, already at the plant for investigations, will cooperate with the six-member IAEA team, but the UN agency's probe will be independent, agency officials said.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co has come under fire in the wake of the powerful quake, which triggered a small fire at the plant.
The company has also revealed hundreds of other incidents and damage in the aftermath, including a radioactive water leak into the sea, though the amount of radioactivity released was minimal.
Plant officials said they had not foreseen such a powerful quake hitting the facility, and repeatedly underreported its impact afterward.
The company said the radiation from the leaks was far below levels people would naturally breathe in through the air, but the prefecture's government requested that the IAEA visit.
"The accident created anxiety among the people and the prefecture has been hit hard by harmful rumors," Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida said.
Nuclear experts said the plant proved solid, and blamed human error for the leaks, singling out the failure to turn off a fan that apparently emitted the radioactive particles.