IAEA: no major damage to quake-hit plant

TOKYO, JAPAN - There was no significant damage to a nuclear plant in northern Japan shuttered since last summer after it was hit by a strong earthquake, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said.

A 12-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency drew that conclusion after a four-day visit to Tokyo and the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear complex, which was rocked by a magnitude-6.8 quake July 16.

The quake, which killed 11 people and injured more than 1,000, caused malfunctions and leaks at the plant — the world's largest by capacity — and raised concerns about safety at Japan's nuclear power stations.

"The first objective of the team has been to confirm that there appears to be no significant damage to the integrity of the plant," team leader Phillipe Jamet said in a statement.

The team was able to view key internal components in the plant inaccessible during its first visit last August and meet with regulatory officials, the plant's operators, and other experts, the statement said.

The complex was shut down after the quake, and U.N. nuclear agency officials have said it may take another year of repairs and inspections before it can be safely restarted.

TEPCO officials said they had not foreseen such a powerful quake hitting the facility. Studies of the surrounding area have shown that a fault line may extend next to, or even directly below, the nuclear power plant.

Japan relies heavily on its nuclear program, which supplies about 30 percent of its electricity. The country plans to build another 11 reactors by 2017, eventually boosting nuclear power's share of electricity production to 40 percent.


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