France's Sarkozy, nuclear experts, head to Japan

  • World
  • Tuesday, 29 Mar 2011

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy will visit Japan this week, the first foreign leader to do so since a devastating earthquake and tsunami, and French nuclear experts are also flying out to help contain the atomic crisis.

Sarkozy, also acting as chairman of the G20 and G8 economic groupings, will meet Prime Minister Naoto Kan and French expatriates on Thursday, after opening a high-level G20 seminar in Nanjing, China, on global monetary reform.

Separately, France is sending nuclear experts from Areva and its CEA nuclear research body at the request of Japanese authorities, who have been battling since the March 11 quake to avert disaster at the crippled Fukushima plant.

France is the world's most nuclear-dependent country, producing 75 percent of its power needs from 58 nuclear reactors around the country, and selling state-owned Areva's reactors all over the world.

"We have sent two experts, one from the CEA and one from Areva to share our experience on pumping and the treatment of radioactive water," Environment Minister Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet told reporters.

Sarkozy's office said he would not be joined by nuclear experts, and was going to offer support to the Japanese people.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), has asked for help from both Areva and French power company Electricite de France SA as it struggles to contain the world's worst atomic crisis in 25 years.

Two of the six reactors at the plant are considered stable but the other four are volatile. Workers are struggling to restart cooling pumps in reactors damaged by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and then drenched from cooling hoses.

The immediate challenge is to pump out radioactive water flooding basements and hampering the restoration of power.

An EDF spokeswoman said that while no expert from EDF was immediately going to Japan, it had sent masks, overall suits and boric acid to Japan this month, jointly with Areva, as well as water, soup, blankets, power generators, pumps and trucks.

(Reporting by Mathilde Cru; Writing by Muriel Boselli and Catherine Bremer; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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