Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant opened to reporters

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Media caption,

Reporters were taken around the Fukushima site in full protective clothing

Reporters have been allowed inside the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan for the first time since it was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in March.

The journalists toured the plant wearing full protective clothing.

A reporter from the Associated Press described seeing "twisted and overturned trucks, crumbling reactor buildings and piles of rubble virtually untouched since the wave struck".

Three reactors melted down after the tsunami wrecked their cooling systems.

The authorities have previously rejected requests by journalists to visit the plant, on the grounds that radiation levels were too high and it could hamper operations to tackle the crisis.

This tour was designed to show that the situation at the plant is gradually becoming more stable.

The reporters arrived at Fukushima on Friday and were shown a nearby football-training complex which is now being used as a base for the clean-up operation.

On Saturday they were shown around the Fukushima site itself and were able to take the first pictures inside the damaged plant.

The media tour was accompanied by the head of the Fukushima plant, Masao Yoshida, who described the dire conditions there following the tsunami.

"In the first week immediately after the accident I thought a few times, I'm going to die," he said.

However, he suggested that the situation there was now much better.

"I believe the plant is stabilised to the level that residents in surrounding communities can live without fear."

"But it's still very tough conditions for the recovery workers inside the complex," he added.

The government minister in charge of the clean-up operation, Goshi Hosono, was also there and made a speech to workers at the plant praising them for the progress being made.

"Every time I come back, I feel conditions have improved. This is due to your hard work," he said.

'Cold shutdown'

Large quantities of radioactive material leaked into the surrounding area following the disaster and much of the countryside around the plant is sealed-off.

The authorities are hoping to complete a "cold shutdown" of the damaged reactors by the end of the year. But it could take decades to completely decommission the plant.

Of the six reactors at Fukushima, four were badly damaged by the tsunami.

The nuclear fuel rods in reactors one, two and three melted down due to a failure of the cooling systems, causing damage to their containment structures.

There were also explosions caused by a build-up of hydrogen gas.

Completing the process of stabilising these reactors remains the main task at the plant, but the authorities have also been trying to tackle the accumulation of highly contaminated waste water in the reactor buildings.