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Japan sets up compensation plan for plant operator

Japan's government has agreed on a new plan to ensure the operator of crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant can meet the massive costs of compensating people affected by the crisis.

Friday's plan involves establishing a fund financed by both public money and contributions from utilities that will provide financial support to Tokyo Electric Power Co. TEPCO expects to face a deluge of damage claims in the wake of worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

The government will fund the scheme with special bonds, though it did not say the amount it expects to issue.

The plan must still be made into a bill and be approved by parliament before taking effect.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

TOKYO (AP) — The operator of a nuclear power plant in central Japan began Friday the process of shutting down its reactors as part of an agreement with the government to temporarily suspend operations until it strengthens tsunami protections.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan requested the temporary shutdown amid concerns an earthquake with a magnitude of 8 or higher could strike central Japan sometime within 30 years. The Hamaoka facility sits above a major fault line and has long been considered Japan's riskiest nuclear power plant.

The government has said it will not seek similar shutdowns of any other reactors in the country. Its decision came after evaluating Japan's 54 reactors for quake and tsunami vulnerability after the March 11 disasters that crippled the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan, which is still leaking radiation.

Chubu Electric Co. said work to idle the No. 4 reactor at the Hamaoka plant started Friday morning. The company expects to begin halting the No. 5 reactor — its second operational reactor — on Saturday.

Chubu Electric President Akihisa Mizuno agreed to cooperate with the government during a nationally televised news conference Monday, describing Kan's request as carrying immense weight.

The company will also indefinitely delay a planned resumption of the No. 3 reactor, which has been shut down for regular maintenance since late last year.

The plant's non-operating No. 1 and No. 2 reactors were slated for decommission before the tsunami.

Nuclear energy provides more than one-third of Japan's electricity, and shutting the Hamaoka plant is likely to exacerbate power shortages expected this summer. The three reactors account for more than 10 percent of Chubu's power supply.

Chubu Electric inserted neutron-absorbing control rods into the No. 4 reactor to slow nuclear fission, spokesman Koki Saguchi said. It stopped producing power at 10 a.m. and is expected to reach cold shutdown — when the reactor temperature drops below 100 degrees Celsius — sometime Saturday.