Kan vows to rebuild Japan

Tokyo/Fukushima: As hectic efforts were on to contain Japan`s worst atomic crisis, police in protective gear on Thursday for the first time launched a search for tsunami victims in a 10-km zone around a radiation-leaking nuclear plant while Premier Naoto Kan vowed to rebuild the nation amid growing opposition calls for him to quit.

In their first visit to the disaster-hit northeast, Japan`s Emperor Akhito and Empress Michiko visited Asahi City in Chiba Prefecture, just outside Tokyo, where they met residents of districts struck by the March 11 magnitude-9 quake and tsunami that left nearly 30,000 people dead or missing.

After being briefed by Chiba Governor Kensaku Morita on the disaster that killed 13 people in the city and destroyed hundreds of houses, the couple visited a community centre in Unakami district, where 80 residents of Asahi had taken shelter, national broadcaster NHK reported.

They also visited an emergency centre in the area, where about 70 residents were staying. The couple are scheduled to visit Kitaibaraki City in Ibaraki prefecture on Friday next week, Sendai in Miyagi on April 27, Iwate prefecture on May 2 and Fukushima on May 11.

Prime Minister Kan, who is facing mounting calls from the opposition to step down over his handling of the aftermath of the twin disaster, expressed his commitment to rejuvenate Japan by turning the devastated northeastern coastal region into one of the world`s most desirable places to live.

"I`d like you to present a plan that will open up a great opportunity to renew Japan and create a better society for the Japanese people," Kan said at the first meeting of a panel tasked with developing a grand design for reconstruction, Kyodo news agency reported.

Kan said Japan would overcome "the worst crisis in its 65-year postwar history" by putting together its wisdom and power, and heeding the voices of people suffering from the natural calamity.

Meanwhile, another strong earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 jolted northeastern Japan early today.

The undersea quake struck at 5.57 am local time at a depth of just 11.2 km, around 190 km east of Morioka on Honshu island, according to the US Geological Survey.

However, the workers at the Fukushima plant continued the difficult task of removing highly radioactive water from the basements of Nos.1 to 3 reactor turbine buildings.

The level of polluted water in the plant`s underground trench was found to be edging up again this morning after some 660 tonnes were pumped out, Kyodo news agency reported.

The removal of some 60,000 tonnes of contaminated water is vital to speed up the work to restore key cooling functions of the reactors lost in the March 11 twin disaster.