The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has begun a fact-finding mission to unravel the causes of Japan's ongoing radiation crisis that was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station.

The IAEA said the mission, from Tuesday to June 2, would assess the “safety issues” at the actual plant site. Coinciding with the IAEA mission, the Daiichi plant operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, said three nuclear reactors at the site had suffered varying degrees of melt-down.

Earlier, the leaders of China, Japan, and South Korea met in Tokyo on Sunday and pledged to “uphold the safety-first principle” in harnessing atoms for peace. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak agreed on “a practical and tangible framework of cooperation” to ensure safety in the promotion of nuclear energy.

Mr. Wen said he had proposed a “mechanism” for information-sharing and trilateral cooperation on nuclear safety issues. China, Japan, and South Korea were similarly placed in having “big populations and many nuclear [power] plants,” he said, emphasising the imperative of safety.

Endorsing the heightened relevance of the existing trilateral mechanism of Top Regulators' Meeting on Nuclear Safety, which was first launched in 2008, the three leaders now agreed to set up “frameworks” for early notification of any civil nuclear accident and for a “real-time forecast of air flow trajectory” in such a situation.

In a pre-summit picture-perfect gesture of solidarity with the Japanese people, Mr. Wen and Mr. Lee tasted a few cherries from the radiation-hit Fukushima prefecture. The two leaders accepted the fruits offered by Mr. Kan at a gymnasium-turned-evacuation-centre in Fukushima city — about 60 km from the Daiichi plant, epicentre of the world's worst civil nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986.

Mr. Wen said he took the initiative of travelling to Fukushima to express China's sympathy for the Japanese people.

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