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Inspectors from U.N. nuclear agency to come to Japan

Inspectors from U.N. nuclear watchdog agency are expected to join Japanese authorities in collecting information at a nuclear plant, which was quake-damaged. An official said on Friday that they will not oversee their work.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Tuesday it will send a team of investigators in the next few weeks to examine the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, which was severely damaged last week by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake in northwestern Japan.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in a statement that Tokyo's invitation to dispatch the team was "important for identifying lessons learned that might have implications for the international nuclear safety regime."

Akira Fukushima, a Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency official, said Friday the government's understanding is that team's mission will be "not to review or oversee our work, but rather to join us in gathering information."

The IAEA has told Tokyo it was "confident" in Japan's ability to correctly assess and deal with the problems at the plant, he added.

The quake killed 11 people, injured more than 1,000 and caused a range of malfunctions and leaks at the plant _ the world's largest in terms of capacity _ that have raised concerns for safety at the country's nuclear power stations.

NISA announced on Thursday that nuclear plants across Japan will acquire chemical fire vehicles and set up a hot line to fire stations to improve preparedness.

The nation's 11 power plant operators will install chemical fire vehicles and fire engines with built-in water tanks at their plants by March 2008, NISA said in a statement.

The operators will set up hot lines between the plants and local fire stations and ensure more than 10 officials would be ready during off-hours to better respond to emergencies, the agency said.

The agency had asked the operators to submit plans on how to improve preparedness.

The move came as Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, came under criticism in the wake of the powerful quake.

The quake triggered a small fire at the plant in Niigata prefecture (state). It took two hours to put out the fire because plant officials had trouble notifying fire officials, TEPCO said.

In the following days, TEPCO announced a barrage of leaks and malfunctions.

About 30 tons of rainwater leaked into four buildings at the plant, according to TEPCO spokesman Ryo Shimizu. The leaks were confirmed Thursday after heavy rains hit the region. The water was believed to have leaked inside through gaps made by the quake, he said. The water contained no radioactive materials, Shimizu said.

TEPCO also plans to conduct detailed studies of the nearby offshore fault line on which the quake occurred. The survey could take place as soon as next month, TEPCO spokesman Akituska Kobayashi said, though he cautioned the company was still working to finalize its schedule.

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