Japan will allow investigators from the UN nuclear watchdog to inspect a nuclear power station damaged last week by a powerful earthquake in order to address international safety concerns, an official said yesterday.
The Japanese government had first told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it did not need help for now, but then came under pressure from local authorities to allow inspections.
An official from Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said a date had not yet been set, although the Nikkei Shimbun reported that four IAEA inspectors would visit the nuclear site as soon as early next month.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said joint studies on nuclear safety would help not only Japan but other countries prone to earthquakes.
"It will be important for Japan and the IAEA to work together and to analyze the results carefully," he told a news conference. "We will cooperate with the IAEA and will probably be making the inspections together."
The decision came as Niigata Prefecture estimated economic losses from the July 16 magnitude-6.8 temblor at ?1.5 trillion (US$12.37 billion), of which ?700 billion was linked to the closure of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.
The July 16 earthquake triggered a wave of malfunctions and damage at the plant, including a fire that charred an electrical transformer, planks that toppled into a pool of spent nuclear fuel and the knocking over of some 400 barrels of atomic waste. The problems were capped by news that radioactive water had sloshed out of a tank and was flushed out to sea, and that radioactive material was vented into the air in two separate instances.
IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei offered last Thursday to send in inspectors but Tokyo rejected the offer saying it could handle the safety check on its own.
Meanwhile, a 47-year-old factory worker who was severely burned in a fire at his casting factory in Kashiwazaki following the quake died yesterday, officials said, bringing the number of fatalities to 11.
More than 1,000 people were injured by the quake.