France and Japan united in defence of nuclear power

The leaders of Japan and France strongly defended the use of nuclear power yesterday, despite fresh reports that the crippled Fukushima plant is spewing growing quantities of radiation, with the United Nations suggesting expanding the evacuation zone.

Japan's nuclear safety agency revealed yesterday that radioactive iodine in seawater about 300m off shore from the complex has been clocked at 4,385-times the legal standard, while the plant operator has measured contamination in groundwater underneath one reactor at 10,000 times the government health standard.

Radiation experts are viewing the figures with increasing alarm, but Nicolas Sarkozy, on a trip to Tokyo, said there is no viable alternative to nuclear power. "Everyone is trying to cut CO2," said the French President, standing beside Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

"The advanced countries don't have much choice right now."

An exhausted-looking Mr Kan said Japan would continue to use nuclear power but would work for higher global standards. "The situation is not under control yet but when it is we must inspect all nuclear plants and think about how to make them safer."

Mr Sarkozy's visit, the first by a head of state since Japan's earthquake and tsunami, has been overshadowed by the twin disaster which has left 27,500 people dead or missing and the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The UN's nuclear watchdog yesterday asked Japan to "carefully assess" its 30km exclusion zone around the complex after it found radiation levels twice its recommended level about 40km away.

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency found iodine-131 and cesium-137 in soil in the village of Iitate in Fukushima prefecture, which has not been evacuated. IEAE officials visited Iitate this week, briefing the village head Norio Konno. A spokesman for the village said they are waiting to hear from the government: "We can't move till we do. But of course our citizens are worried."

Japan's top government spokesman Yukio Edano said it accepted that radiation levels are "higher than recommended" but said there are no plans yet to widen the exclusion zone. "We are closely watching the possibility of long-term cumulative effects of the contamination. If the situation continues there could be health risks, and we will take necessary measures."

Japan has 55 operational reactors, with another 11 in construction or planned, including the world's largest.

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