12/16/2011, 00.00
JAPAN
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Fukushima: doubts raised about the nuclear plant shut down

Japan’s PM announces cold shutdown of reactors. Decommissioning is planned over the next 40 years. Experts doubt government’s claims, warn of nuclear reaction.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is in stable conditions, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said. His announcement comes nine months after the 11 March tsunami that killed 15,000 people and saw three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors experience meltdown, 240 kilometres from Tokyo. However, despite government reassurances, doubts remain about the degree of stability of the plant. The 20-km security zone around the structure remains in place.

“The nuclear reactors have reached a state of cold shutdown,” Mr Noda said. This means that “while ensuring we operate the nuclear reactors as safely as possible” it is possible to start “to decommission them", he added.

Phase 2 in the roadmap to bring the accident under control is now complete, the PM explained. In fact, the reactors’ core temperature is below 100 C and radiation levels are under control.

According to technicians at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), it will take about 40 years to decommission the six damaged reactors and store the active nuclear rods.

However, many experts are doubtful about what the government and TEPCO are saying. “The government wants to reassure the people that everything is under control," said Kazuhiko Kudo, a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University, but they are using a vague and imprecise terminology.

In his view, the temperature in the reactors is still too high and there is a possible risk of reaction. For a cold shutdown to be in place, it is necessary to go inside the reactor and examine the fuel rods under the rubbles because they could still be very unstable.

Inside, the structure is still collapsing and leaks of radioactive material are still happening. Just last week, 45 cubic metres of water leaked into the sea from a crack in the foundation of a water treatment facility.

A few months after the tsunami, TEPCO admitted its responsibility in poorly managing a plant that experts had already called unsafe and obsolete. Then, it badly handled the nuclear disaster.

Now the company will have to pay about US$ 57 billion in compensation over the next few years, plus 51 billion to decommission the plant.

To prevent it from going under, the government has announced it may inject billions into its coffers next summer in a de facto nationalisation of the company.

Meanwhile, the land contaminated by the radioactive leak covers about 2,400 km2, an area roughly the size of Luxembourg.
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