Japan MP Yasuhiro Sonoda drinks Fukushima water

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Media captionJapan cabinet office spokesman Yasuhiro Sonoda looked nervous

A Japanese official has drunk water collected from the quake-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, after reporters challenged him to prove it was safe.

Yasuhiro Sonoda appeared nervous and his hands shook as he downed a glass during a televised news conference.

The water he drank was taken from puddles under two reactor buildings. It is decontaminated before being used for tasks such as watering plants.

Journalists have repeatedly queried the safety of the procedure.

Mr Sonoda, who serves as the cabinet office's parliamentary spokesman, told the news conference: "Just drinking [decontaminated water] doesn't mean safety has been confirmed. Presenting data to the public is the best way."

Tsunami damage

In another sign of the government's growing confidence over the plant's safety, officials said they would allow journalists on to the site on 12 November.

It will be the first time journalists have toured the area since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami wrecked the plant, causing partial meltdowns in three of its reactors.

A 20km exclusion zone is still in force around the plant, and tens of thousands of people have had to abandon their homes.

The government has a target of the end of the year to bring the plant to a cold shutdown, when the reactors are stable and the water inside them is no longer boiling.

However, a preliminary report by a panel of nuclear experts says fully decommissioning the power station could take 30 years.

Away from Fukushima, the tsunami caused widespread devastation, swamping entire villages, killing thousands of people and leaving many more homeless.

The government struggled to deal with the magnitude of the disaster, and one prime minister has already stepped down largely because of his handling of the crisis.