TOKYO (AP) — Four years after an earthquake and tsunami destroyed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, the road ahead remains riddled with unknowns.
The government approved a revised 30-to-40-year roadmap Friday that delays by three years the start of a key initial step — the removal of still-radioactive fuel rods in the three reactors that had meltdowns following the March 2011 disaster in northeast Japan.
Experts have yet to pinpoint the exact location of the melted fuel inside the three reactors and study it, and still need to develop robots capable of working safely in such highly radioactive conditions. And then there’s the question of what to do with the waste.
CONTAMINATED WATER: The plant is still plagued with massive amounts of contaminated water — cooling water that must be added regularly, and subsequently leaks out of the reactors and mixes with groundwater that seeps into the reactor basements. The volume of water grows by 300 tons daily. TEPCO runs it through treatment machines to remove most radioactive elements, and then stores it in thousands of tanks on the compound. Water leaks pose environmental concerns and health risks to workers. Nuclear experts say controlled release of the treated water into the ocean would be the ultimate solution.
RADIOACTIVE WASTE: Japan currently has no plan for the waste that comes out of the plant. Under the roadmap, the government and TEPCO are supposed to compile a basic plan by March 2018. Waste management is an extremely difficult task that requires developing technology to compact and reduce the toxicity of the waste, while finding a waste storage site is practically impossible considering public sentiment. This raises serious doubts about whether the cleanup can be completed within 40 years.
Read more at What’s ahead for Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant