TOKYO - Japan will take a group of journalists inside the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant for the first time on Saturday, stepping up its efforts to prove to the world it is on top of the disaster.
More than 30 reporters, photographers and cameramen are to go on a tour of the facility in Japan's northeast that sparked the biggest nuclear crisis since Chernobyl 25 years ago and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.
Despite a series of setbacks, including the revelation last week that spontaneous fission had been detected inside a reactor that was supposed to be all but extinct, the government and plant operator TEPCO say they remain on track for a cold shutdown by the end of the year.
The tour, in which just four representatives from foreign media are being allowed to participate, is part of efforts by TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) to show they are close to solving the problem.
Up to 3,300 people are taking part in the clean-up at Fukushima Daiichi, a TEPCO spokesman told journalists on Friday.
The atomic crisis at Fukushima was caused by the huge earthquake and tsunami of March 11 that left 20,000 people dead or missing.
Cooling systems were knocked out and the plant's reactors went into meltdown, sending radiation into the air, sea and food chain, and badly denting the reputation of an important power source in resource-poor Japan.
Thousands of people remain evacuated from a large area surrounding the stricken plant with no end in sight for the many who left homes and farms in the shadow of the leaking reactors.
Journalists will be accompanied for part of the tour by Goshi Hosono, the minister in charge of nuclear accident settlement and prevention, who told AFP in an interview last week that cold shutdown was still the immediate priority.
"Until then, we will ensure we go on step by step without letting our guard down," he said.
On Friday, journalists were taken to J-Village, Japan's national football training centre which has been converted for use as a base for workers battling to contain the disaster.
On Saturday they are expected to go inside the plant itself. During a tour that is scheduled to last just over an hour they will be shown the four reactors at the centre of the crisis.
Last week the government agreed to give TEPCO 900 billion yen ($11.5 billion) to help it pay compensation to those affected by the disaster.
The company is also expecting to receive an additional 120 billion yen under a Japanese law related to nuclear accident compensation, meaning that in total it will receive over 1.0 trillion yen in funds.