July 22, 2007 / 1:25 PM / 10 years ago

Japan accepts IAEA inspectors after quake troubles

TOKYO (Reuters) - The Japanese government will allow inspectors from the United Nations to look into leaks at the world’s largest nuclear plant caused by an earthquake this week, Kyodo news agency quoted officials as saying on Sunday.

“The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has told the IAEA that it will accept the inspection of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co.,” Kyodo reported.

The move comes after reports that regional authorities in Niigata prefecture, home to the plant, sent a petition to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other ministers earlier in the day asking for U.N. inspections after Japan had initially declined offers for help.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) in northwestern Japan, was closed indefinitely after Monday’s 6.8 magnitude quake triggered the leaks of water with low-level radiation.

The Japanese government had told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it did not need help for the time being but would consider inspections in the future.

IAEA chief Mohamed Elbaradei had offered to send inspectors, urging Japan to share lessons from the incident.

The leaks have renewed fears about the safety of the nuclear industry, which supplies about one third of Japan’s power but has suffered from years of accident cover-ups and fudged safety records.

The quake was the most destructive in Japan since one also in the Niigata region nearly three years ago, killing 10 people, injuring more than 1,000 and flattening hundreds of houses.

TEPCO has said the tremor was stronger than the plant had been designed to withstand.

The TEPCO nuclear power station was closed down after the radiation leaks, which the company said were within safety regulations and posed no threat to the environment.

In its petition, Niigata prefecture said the nuclear plant problems had caused public concern and spread harmful rumors, hurting the region’s tourism, agriculture and fishing industries, Kyodo reported.

“Appropriate information needs to be disseminated,” the petition said.

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