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Japan searches for bodies near nuclear plant (VIDEO)


Residents take an outdoor bath amongst tsunami devastation in Kesennuma city, Miyagi prefecture on April 14, 2011.


Yasuyoshi Chiba

Japanese police began searching on Thursday near a stricken nuclear power plant for the bodies of victims of last month's tsunami and earthquake.

The search moved closer to the plant after radiation levels fell sufficiently for search efforts to be conducted safely and for search logistics to be feasible.

Police are now searching about four miles from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, reports the New York Times.

The March 11 disaster destroyed the plant's cooling systems, and workers have struggled to contain radiation leaking from the plant since. They are now working to remove radioactive water from damaged reactors and from underground tunnels.

The search Thursday is the closest police have come to the plant since the nuclear crisis began.

BBC reports that more than 300 police wearing protective gear are searching for bodies.

"The search started around 10:00 and will continue until sunset," a police spokesman said, BBC reports. "It's difficult to estimate how many people are still missing in the area. We have to go and find them as soon as possible. If we find bodies contaminated with high levels of radiation, we will wash the remains before we take them to a morgue."

Japan said Monday it would expand the evacuation zone around the plant. People living 12 miles around the plant have been told to evacuate.

Meanwhile, the head of Japan's main opposition party, the Liberal Democratic Party, called on Prime Minister Naoto Kan to step down Thursday over his handling of the disasters and nuclear crisis, Reuters reports.

"The time has come for [the prime minister] to decide whether he stays or goes," Sadakazu Tanigaki told a news conference, it states.

Reuters reports that many in the LDP feel Kan stepping down is a precondition for any coalition. Kan has also faced criticism from within his own party.

The official death toll from the March 11 disaster has risen to 13,400, and close to 15,000 people remain missing.

Read more stories from GlobalPost on the aftermath of the tsunami, earthquake and nuclear accident in Japan.