WASHINGTON, Nov 1 (Reuters) - A "significant milestone" isat hand for cleanup of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, withspent nuclear fuel removal likely to start on schedule, the U.S.Energy Secretary said on Friday after a visit to the site.
"It appears that spent nuclear fuel will begin to be removedfrom Unit 4 as scheduled in mid-November," Ernest Moniz said ina statement. "This will be significant milestone for Tepco and the Japanese government and in the process ofdecommissioning the site."
Moniz, a nuclear physicist, is the highest ranking U.S.official to visit the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear PowerStation since a nuclear disaster in March 2011 that followed anearthquake and tsunami.
The cleanup and decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi, whichhad been operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co, or Tepco, isexpected to take decades.
"The United States stands ready to continue assisting ourpartners in this daunting yet indispensable task," Moniz said, adding that Japan is charting a "sovereign path" on how tohandle the cleanup.
The two countries in 2012 created a bilateral commission tostrengthen engagement on civil nuclear issues.
The commission will hold its second meeting in Washington onMonday, with an "exchange of opinions" on Fukushima on theagenda.
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- Ernest Moniz