TOKYO (AP) — The operator of the nuclear plant leaking radiation in northern Japan says it aims to bring the crisis under control within six to nine months.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata told a news conference Sunday that the company had come up with a phased plan to end the crisis and allow residents who have been evacuated from the area around the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to return home.
He said that in the first three months, the company hopes to steadily reduce the level of leaking radiation. Three to six months after that it hopes to get the release of radioactive materials under control.
The plant was damaged by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
TOKYO (AP) — The operator of the radiation-leaking plant embroiled in Japan's worst-ever nuclear power disaster said Sunday that it had drawn up a timeline for resolving the crisis more than a month after it began.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said its chairman, Tsunehisa Katsumata, would hold a news conference Sunday afternoon to explain the plan to bring an end to the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which was damaged by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
Details of the plan were not immediately available.
In a show of support for a staunch American ally, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed admiration and sympathy for the Japanese as she visited Tokyo on Sunday. She was due to meet with senior Japanese officials, including the prime minister, emperor and empress.
Clinton said she was visiting "to demonstrate our very strong bonds of friendship that go very deep into the hearts of our people."
Prime Minister Naoto Kan, fighting criticism over his administration's handling of the disaster, has called resolving the nuclear crisis his "top priority."
"I take very seriously, and deeply regret, the nuclear accidents we have had at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Bringing the situation under control at the earliest possible date is my top priority," Kan said in a commentary in the weekend edition of the International Herald Tribune.
As Japan has begun planning for reconstruction and mulling how to pay for it, Kan's political opponents have resumed calls for his resignation after refraining from criticism in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
Thanking the international community for its support, Kan vowed to rebuild a country "highly resistant to national disasters."
"I pledge that the Japanese government will promptly and thoroughly verify the cause of this incident, as well as share information and the lessons learned with the rest of the world to help prevent such accidents in the future," he said in the commentary, which also appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post.
Frustrations have been mounting over plant operator TEPCO's failure to resolve the nuclear crisis, which began when the 46-foot (14-meter) tsunami knocked out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex.
Explosions, fires and other malfunctions have hindered efforts to repair the plant and stem radiation leaks, and officials reported late Saturday that levels of radioactivity had again risen sharply in seawater near the plant, signaling the possibility of new leaks.
Workers have been spraying massive amounts of water on the overheated reactors. Some of that water, contaminated with radiation, has leaked into the Pacific. Plant officials said they plugged that leak on April 5 and radiation levels in the sea dropped.
Authorities have insisted the radioactivity will dissipate and poses no immediate threat to sea creatures or people who might eat them. Most experts agree.
Regardless, plant workers on Saturday began dumping sandbags filled with sand and zeolite, a mineral that absorbs radioactive cesium, into the sea to combat the radiation leaks.
Radiation has also leaked into the air, forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people and contaminating crops and sea products.
Government officials fanned out across the affected areas during the weekend seeking to explain evacuation decisions and calm nerves. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano met Sunday with the governor of Fukushima, who has vigorously protested the predicament the nuclear crisis poses for his prefecture.
"The safety of residents is our foremost priority," Edano said. "I told the governor that the government will do everything it can to prevent the crisis from worsening."
On Saturday, Edano's deputy, Tetsuro Fukuyama, apologized to a gathering of residents in Iitate village, parts of which the government recommended be evacuated because of the nuclear crisis.
Residents attending the meeting, many of them farmers, angrily complained, saying they could not just leave their livestock or move them elsewhere.
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