The Mainichi answers some common questions readers may have about the reactor decommissioning work at the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Q: What exactly does "decommissioning" mean?
A: This refers to the series of procedures that take place when dismantling and removing the buildings on the grounds of a nuclear power plant. Preparatory work is presently being undertaken at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in the lead-up to 2021, when melted nuclear fuel will be removed from the containment vessels in reactors number 1 through 3.
Q: How far has the work progressed over the past five years?
A: Considering the total process, things are only just getting started. At the Fukushima plant, decommissioning work must be carried out simultaneously upon the three reactors where the nuclear fuel has melted. The entire process is expected to take between 30 and 40 years. Since the work began at the end of 2011, it will likely go on until 2041 or 2051.
Q: What kind of work is being done at the plant?
A: Every day, some 7,000 workers come onto the grounds of the nuclear power plant to engage in a countless number of tasks including clearing away rubble, erecting tanks to store contaminated water, and going around the plant to check on leakage of the contaminated water, to name just a few.
Q: Isn't it dangerous?
A: To avoid radioactive contamination, workers change into protective suits. Employees are also equipped with devices on their bodies to measure the levels of radiation and full-face masks that are worn when working in areas where the figure is high.
In addition to being exposed to radiation, this work also carries the risk of heatstroke during the summer from wearing the protective suits.
No nuclear reactors have been completely decommissioned at a commercial nuclear power plant that has experienced a large-scale accident such as that seen at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. At the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the former Soviet Union, where an accident occurred in 1986, such work is still ongoing today.
If the reactor decommissioning is delayed in Fukushima, it is possible that this will negatively impact the prefecture's recovery. In order for the work to be completed in a timely manner, then, support for the workers must come from citizens everywhere in the country.