WRAPUP 2-Japan crisis drags, France wants global nuclear reform

* Sarkozy wants international conference to set rules

* U.S., Germany also offer technical help to Japan

* High level of radiation found in ground water

* Long battle foreseen to control crippled plant

* Animals said to be eating each other in evacuation zone

(Add details, comment by head of experts group)

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Yoko Nishikawa

TOKYO, April 1 (Reuters) – Japan’s nuclear crisis stretched
to three weeks on Friday with radiation widening from a crippled
power plant and scant hope of a quick resolution.

France — the most nuclear-dependent in the world — called
for new global nuclear rules and proposed a global conference in
France for May as President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a quick visit
to Tokyo on Thursday to show support.

“We must look at this coldly so that such a catastrophe
never occurs again,” said Sarkozy, who chairs the Group of 20
bloc of nations, during his brief stopover.

It was the first visit by a foreign leader since a March 11
earthquake and tsunami battered northeast Japan, leaving nearly
28,000 people dead or missing. The damage may top $300 billion,
making it the world’s costliest natural disaster.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, under enormous pressure as he
struggles to manage Japan’s toughest test since World War II,
welcomed the gesture of solidarity.

“I told him a Japanese proverb — ‘a friend who comes on a
rainy day is your true friend’, and thanked him for coming to
Japan from the bottom of my heart,” he said.

Illustrating the gravity of the problem and spreading
contamination, radioactive iodine 131 was found in ground water
near No.1 reactor of Fukushima Daiichi complex, plant operator
Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said.

“Radioactive materials in the air could have come down to
the earth’s surface and they could have seeped into the ground
due to rainfall,” a company spokesman said.

Radiation in water at an underground tunnel near another
reactor of the plant had also been found more than 10,000 times
above the normal level of water in reactors, Kyodo news agency
said.

An abnormal level of radioactive caesium appeared in beef
from the area for the first time, but Japan’s nuclear safety
agency wants to test it again as it had some doubts over test
results, Kyodo added.

ROBOTS

France is a global leader in the nuclear industry, and Paris
has flown in experts from state-owned nuclear reactor maker
Areva (CEPFi.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) to work with Japanese engineers.

“Areva is one of the companies that will make the most out
of a nuclear revival and therefore will be in most trouble if
there isn’t a nuclear revival,” said Malcolm Grimston, an expert
from London’s Imperial College.

“Certainly Sarkozy or France generally have a very strong
interest in getting things moving as quickly as possible and
trying to ensure that there isn’t a major backlash (to nuclear
power). France would be one of the biggest losers from that.”

Other nations are also scrambling to help Japan.

The United States and Germany are sending robots to help
repair and explore the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant. Kyodo
said some 140 U.S. military radiation safety experts would soon
visit to offer technical help.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which says
the situation at the Fukushima plant remains very serious,
already has two teams in Japan, monitoring radiation levels.

The Japanese disaster, the worst nuclear accident since
Chernobyl in 1986, has appalled the world and revived heated
debate over the safety and benefits of atomic power.

The controversy took an alarming twist in Switzerland when
a parcel bomb exploded at the office of the national nuclear
lobby, injuring two employees. It was not known who sent it.

Japan’s Kan is under pressure to expand a 20-km (12-mile)
evacuation zone around the plant, where radiation has also hit
4,000 times the legal limit in the nearby Pacific sea.

Worryingly, the source of the leak is unclear.

More than 70,000 people have been evacuated from the 20-km
ring. Another 136,000 who live in a 10-km (6-mile) band beyond
that have been encouraged to leave or to stay indoors.

The U.N. atomic agency IAEA said radiation at a village 40
km (25 miles) away exceeded a criterion for evacuation, while
the head of a group of independent radiation experts said Japan
must hand out iodine tablets now and as widely as possible to
avoid a potential leap in thyroid cancers.

“CANNIBALISATION”

Underlining the terrible and surreal times Japan is living,
one newborn baby’s first medical appointment was not with a
paediatrician — but a Geiger counter.

“I am so scared about radiation,” Misato Nagashima said as
she took her baby Rio, born four days after the earthquake and
disaster, for a screening at a city in Fukushima prefecture.

Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said chickens and pigs left
behind by farmers in the evacuation zone were resorting to
desperate means. “A considerable amount of time has passed and I
am hearing there were episodes of cannibalisation,” he said.

Government officials are pleading for Japanese, and the
world, to avoid overreacting to what they say are still low-risk
levels of radiation away from the plant.

Food and milk shipments from the region have been stopped,
decimating the livelihoods of farmers and fishermen. Various
nations have banned food imports from the area.

Contaminated milk was one of the biggest causes of thyroid
cancer after the 1986 nuclear accident in Chernobyl because
people near the plant kept drinking milk from local cows.

Experts say the battle to control Fukushima’s six reactors
by restoring pumps to cool fuel could take weeks, if not months,
followed by a clean-up operation that may drag on for years.

“In order to shut down the immediate public health risk,
it’s necessary to transition from interim cooling to a longer
term cooling solution, stop leakage of radioactive liquids, and
decontaminate or remove radioactive materials in and around the
facilities,” said Eric Moore of U.S-based FocalPoint Consulting
group.