During the first media tour of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan since its devastation in March, journalists on Saturday were not allowed to get close to the heavily damaged reactor buildings or even to leave the tour bus. In addition, they had to wear radiation suits, double layers of gloves, plastic boot covers, and hair nets.

Located about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo, the plant's cooling systems were first shaken by a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and then swamped by a massive tsunami on March 11. The one-two combination led to explosions and meltdowns of three of the six nuclear reactors at the plant. During the chaperoned visit, the reactor buildings were still surrounded by broken-down trucks, dented water tanks, and twisted metal fences, Reuters reported.

Even so, Masao Yoshida, manager of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, told the visiting journalists Saturday, From the data at the plant that I have seen, there is no doubt that the reactors have been stabilized.

The Tokyo Electric Power Co. has reportedly succeeded in bringing down temperatures at all three damaged reactors from levels considered dangerous, allowing Tepco workers to enter the reactor buildings. According to Yoshida, however, there is still danger involved for those working there.

The triple disaster in March killed an estimated 20,000 people. And the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant is the worst nuclear mishap since the Chernobyl event in the former Soviet Union 25 years ago. The accident forced the Japanese government to declare an evacuation zone with a 12-mile radius around the plant that led to an estimated 80,000 residents being evacuated.

Nevertheless, government officials appear happy with the progress made so far.

I think it's remarkable that we've come this far, The Guardian of London quoted Goshi Hosono, the environment minister, as saying, The situation at the beginning was extremely severe. At least we can say we have overcome the worst.

Every time I come back, I feel conditions have improved. This is due to your hard work, Hosono told workers at the plant.

Tepco believes it will be able to declare a cold shutdown by the end of the year. A cold shutdown is one of the conditions that must be met before the government considers lifting its ban on entry into the area.

According to a government report released this month, the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi could take 30 or more years.