WRAPUP 3-Japan crisis drags, France wants global nuclear reform

* No end in sight to nuclear, humanitarian disasters

* High levels of radiation continue near crippled plants

* Thousands still living in makeshift shelters

* Animals said to be eating each other in evacuation zone

(Fixes link)

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Yoko Nishikawa

TOKYO, April 1 (Reuters) – Japan’s nuclear and humanitarian
crisis stretched to three weeks on Friday with radiation still
leaking from a crippled nuclear power plant, thousands of
homeless people struggling to rebuild their lives, and little
hope of a quick resolution to either.

As Tokyo Electric Power Co tries to regain control
of its stricken nuclear plant in the face of mounting public
criticism and a huge potential compensation bill, the government
was reportedly moving to take control of the utility.
[ID:nL3E7EV46V]

The government said it had yet to decide on how to support
the utility, which is grappling with the world’s worst nuclear
crisis since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and may have to deal
with compensation claims topping $130 billion according to one
U.S. investment bank.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano held his daily
news briefing on Friday having swapped his ‘bosai fuku’
emergency jacket for a suit for the first time since the early
days of the disaster in an apparent effort to portray a return
to normality, but angry Japanese see very little change.

“We have changed our clothes to show that the government is
stepping into the next stage towards restoration and
reconstruction,” said Edano.

In the devastated northeast, many Japanese still see only
the splintered remains of their homes and lives after a 9.0
magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, leaving around
28,000 people dead or missing.

Radiation 4,000 times the legal limit has been detected in
seawater near the plant as contaminated water used to try and
cool down reactor rods leaks or spills into the ocean, and high
levels of radiation outside a 20 km (12 mile) exclusion zone has
put pressure on Japan to widen the no-man’s land.

More than 172,400 people were still living in shelters
around northeast Japan. Many devastated areas looked like a
rubbish-strewn junkyard, with cars lodged in the side of toppled
buildings and boats still high and dry on roads.

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

Despite his positive message, Edano said the evacuation of
people from near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi complex, 240 km
(150 miles) north of Tokyo, would be a “long-term” operation.

Nuclear experts say it could take years, possibly decades to
make the area around the plants safe.

With thousands still missing and many areas off-limits to
rescuers due to the high levels of radiation, Japanese and U.S.
forces will soon begin a joint search for bodies.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan is under enormous pressure as he
struggles to manage Japan’s toughest test since World War Two.

The damage bill may top $300 billion, making it the world’s
costliest natural disaster, and raising concerns about the
world’s third-biggest economy.

Japanese manufacturing activity slumped to a two-year low in
March and posted the sharpest monthly fall on record as the
quake and tsunami hit supply chains and output. [ID:nLHE7EO00C]

Japan’s government may need to spend over 10 trillion yen
($120 billion) in emergency budgets for disaster relief and
reconstruction, the country’s deputy finance minister, Mitsuru
Sakurai, signalled on Thursday. [ID:nL3E7EV0H6]

RADIATION FEARS CONTINUE

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

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.

Other nations are also scrambling to help Japan.

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

U.S. nuclear workers were being recruited to join the
recovery teams at Fukushima and will begin flying in on Sunday.
[ID:nnN31284409]

“These are not ‘jumpers’ rushing into a room. TEPCO is
bringing in robots to help limit human exposure to high levels
of radiation,” said Joe Melanson, a recruiter at specialist
nuclear industry staffing firm Bartlett Nuclear in Plymouth,
Massachusetts.

“Jumpers” is the industry term for people who enter highly
radioactive environments to quickly perform a task. The practice
was common in the United States in the 1970s and early 80s.

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 has 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.

“CANNIBALISATION”

Illustrating the terrible and surreal times through which
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.

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.

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 nuclear accident in Chernobyl because people
near the plant kept drinking milk from local cows.

Life in Tokyo, the capital of 13 million people, was slowly
returning to normal from the early days of the disaster when
train service was patchy, workers stayed home and groceries like
bread, milk, toilet paper and diapers were rare.

But Tokyo residents still worry about the spread of
radiation and another big quake.

“I only go as far from home as I can walk back and I take
emergency gear with me,” said Noriko Ariura, rummaging in a bag
holding a radio, flashlight, bottled water and medicine.

(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka and Kiyoshi Takenaka in
Tokyo, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Scott DiSavino in New York,
Catherine Bremer in Paris; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by
Daniel Magnowski)

WRAPUP 3-Japan crisis drags, France wants global nuclear reform