Japanese authorities announced on Friday that a "cold shutdown" has been achieved at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The declaration will meet Japan's target to stabilize the reactors by the end of 2011. However it will still take years, perhaps decades, to fully clean up the site.
In September, Tepco said it had achieved stable cooling of the three melted reactors at its Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and reduced radiation emissions to negligible levels. Friday's announcement was an indication that the plant's reactors have remained at temperatures below the boiling point for some time, allowing a cold shutdown to officially be declared.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda held a press conference to confirm the cold shutdown.
The government announcement is a symbolic milestone for Japan. The accident But now comes the hard part - starting the cleanup. The accident triggered by the March earthquake and tsunami was the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
American experts commenting for CNN have said the cold shutdown does not mean the plant is safe; it remains dangerous. But the cold shutdown does mean Japanese officials have one less thing to worry about. If less cooling water is being used, it reduces the problem of having to dispose of contaminated cooling water, one of many problems that has plagued workers at the crippled plant.
Officials could start removing spent fuel rods from the facility next year, though it could be years before they are able to access the damaged reactor vessels themselves. Citing government sources, Kyodo News reported yesterday that scrapping crippled reactors at the plant could take up to 40 years.
The plume of radioactive particles that spewed from Fukushima Daiichi also displaced about 80,000 people who lived within a 20-kilometer (12.5-mile) radius of the plant, as well as residents of one village as far as 40 kilometres to the northwest. The government has yet to determine when those evacuated can return to their homes.
Report: Experts: Long road ahead as crippled Japanese reactors mark milestone [CNN, 16 Dec 2011]
Report: Tepco Said to Expect Approval to Start Decommissioning Fukushima Station[Bloomberg, 15 Dec 2011]
The Wall Street Journal has released an in-depth look at the technical challenges involved in making the Fukushima Dai-ichi site safe.
Meanwhile, the Yomiuri Shimbun is running a two-part series looking into the problems facing Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, and what is required to create a new nuclear safety agency in April 2012.
Analysis: Fukushima Cold Shutdown: An Inside Look [Wall Street Journal, 15 Dec 2011]
Analysis: NUCLEAR CRISIS--9 MONTHS ON / Govt pressure on N-agency cast doubt on meltdown [Yomiuri Shinbun, 16 Dec 2011]