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Radiation fall allows police to comb nuclear zone for tsunami victims

A decline in leaks at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant yesterday allowed police to search for missing tsunami victims closer to the complex than before.

Officers in protective gear scoured a six-mile radius around the plant for the first time as part of their search for up to 15,000 people who are still missing after the 11 March earthquake and tsunami.

"We need to work very carefully so as not to rip our radiation suits with the debris, metal and chunks of concrete scattered everywhere in the zone," a police officer said.

Although Japanese officials have insisted the situation at the crippled plant is improving, the crisis has dragged on, accompanied by a nearly non-stop series of mishaps and aftershocks that have impeded work in clearing debris and restoring the plant's disabled cooling systems.

The authorities acknowledged this week that overall leaked radioactivity has moved the crisis into the highest severity on an international scale, on a par with Chernobyl, although still involving only a 10th of the radioactivity emitted in the 1986 disaster.

The Emperor entered the earthquake disaster zone for the first time yesterday, visiting the city of Asahi. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko knelt on mats to speak quietly to survivors, who appeared moved.