Media allowed into Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time on Saturday saw a striking scene of devastation: twisted and overturned trucks, crumbling reactor buildings and piles of rubble virtually untouched since the wave struck more than eight months ago.
Representatives of the Japanese and international media, including The Associated Press, were allowed into the plant with the government's chief official in charge of the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. The tour was intended to demonstrate how much the situation at the plant has stabilized since the March 11 tsunami, though reporters had to wear full-body protective gear and submit to radiation scans afterward.
Mangled trucks, flipped over by the wave, remain along the roads inside the complex. Piles of rubble stand where the walls of the plant's reactor structures crumbled, and large pools of water still cover parts of the sprawling campus.
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Officials said the situation at the plant, which suffered meltdowns and explosions after it was deluged by the tsunami, has improved enough to allow the visit.
For weeks after the tsunami, the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, about 225km northeast of Tokyo, spewed large amounts of radioactive materials onto the surrounding countryside, much of which remains off-limits.
The media, including an AP photographer and APTN producer, were allowed to view the grounds of the seaside facility and the outside of several of the damaged reactor units before being taken into the emergency operations centre. Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, who heads the government's nuclear response efforts, addressed workers inside the center.
Japan's government and the utility that runs the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, say radiation leaks are far less of a danger than in the early days of the crisis. They say work is on track toward achieving a "cold shutdown" - in which the temperatures of the reactors are cool and under control.
But the government has predicted that it will take another 30 years at least to safely remove the nuclear fuel and decommission the plant. It could also be decades before tens of thousands of residents forced to flee the 20km exclusion zone around the plant will be able to return. Some experts say even that estimate is optimistic.