U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy pledged U.S. support for the clean-up at Japan's tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Wednesday after her first visit to the site.
Kennedy, dressed in a white radiation protective suit with her name taped on the back and a mask covering her face, went inside a damaged reactor building where she saw how Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) is removing fuel rod assemblies from a cooling pool.
Tepco has removed 814 out of 1,533 fuel rod assemblies from the No. 4 reactor since November.
"We stand ready to help in any way we can," Kennedy, 56, told reporters after her visit, when she made a stop at a Tepco facility near the nuclear power plant.
The power station was wrecked in March 2011, when a 9 magnitude earthquake triggered tsunami waves that hit the plant on the coast north of Tokyo causing of one of the world's worst nuclear disasters.
Shortly after the accident, the United States sent in water pumps, fire trucks, drones and protective suits and masks.
Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, said in a statement the United States "will offer our experience and capabilities, in particular, toward the near-term resolution of ongoing water contamination issues".
Radioactive water poses a long-term risk at the plant and it could take more than three decades to clear it up. The plant has been hit by a series of accidents this year including a 100-tonne leak of radioactive water from storage tanks.
Contaminated water accumulates at a rate of 400 tonnes a day at the plant as groundwater flows into the destroyed basements of the reactor buildings and mixes with highly radioactive water used to cool melted fuel.
Row upon row of huge blue and grey tanks that store contaminated water are lined up while pink, white and purple azalea bushes are in full bloom nearby. Overgrown plants curl onto the streets while pipes snake across the site where numerous cranes still stand.
About 1,200 to 1,300 tanks storing about 450,000 tonnes of contaminated water are on site and over the next two years Tepco wants to set up enough tanks to store 800,000 tonnes of water, said Kenichiro Matsui, a spokesman for the utility.
Up to 5,000 workers are on site each day, according to the Tepco spokesman, Matsui, up from about 4,000 a year ago. In future, that number is likely to increase to about 6,000, he said.
Overseas companies including U.S. ones are eager to get in on the clear-up work and the decommissioning of the six reactors at the wrecked plant but most contracts have gone to Japanese companies.
Kennedy, accompanied by her 21-year-old son, John Schlossberg, drew crowds of workers when she arrived at the Tepco facility.
"It's good that she's here because the situation at the plant needs to be reported worldwide," said one man who now works as a driver for plant workers after hitting his annual radiation exposure limit in his former job at the site.
(By Yoko Kubota, Editing by Robert Birsel)