Tokyo nuclear operator seeking French help; minister

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Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), operator of Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, is seeking help from France to tackle the "critical" situation, Industry Minister Eric Besson said Monday.

"TEPCO, for the first time, I'm pleased to say... has asked for help from French industrial concerns," the minister told RTL radio, specifying French energy giant EDF, nuclear group Areva and CEA, the atomic energy commission, .

Neither EDF (Electricite de France) nor Areva confirmed the news when contacted by AFP.

Besson said that the current situation at Fukushima, where highly radioactive water has leaked from a reactor turbine building following the March 11 earthquake, was "extremely critical".

"It's difficult to know exactly what the situation is," the minister said.

When the experience of the French groups is on hand, "we will know more," he added.

EDF, which manages France's 58 nuclear reactors, announced on March 18 that the three groups were set to send Japan 130 tonnes of specialised equipment, including robots able to intervene in the case of a nuclear accident.

However a spokesman for Besson said TEPCO's latest request was a separate issue.

The water, found in an underground tunnel linked to the number two reactor at the Fukushima plant, showed a radiation reading of more than 1,000 millisieverts per hour, a TEPCO official told reporters in Japan.

The massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the cooling systems of the plant's six reactors -- triggering explosions and fires, releasing radiation and sparking global fears of a widening disaster.

TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu, 66, fell ill on March 16 and took several days off from the joint task force that had been set up by the government and the company.

The number of people confirmed dead or listed as missing following the 9.0-magnitude quake and monster wave climbed above 28,000 on Monday, with 10,901 confirmed dead.

© 2011 AFP

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