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Removal of nuclear debris from Fukushima plant delayed for 'around a year': TEPCO

This file photo taken on Feb. 13, 2021 shows the No. 1-4 reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. (Mainichi/Koichiro Tezuka)

TOKYO -- The removal of nuclear fuel debris from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO)'s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant will be delayed, according to a revised version of its 10-year decommissioning plan announced on March 25.

    The biggest task in the decommissioning process is removing fuel debris including melted nuclear fuel from the plant's No. 2 reactor. Initially the operator planned to commence this work in 2021 -- 10 years after the plant's triple-meltdown following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami -- but it has now been delayed "for around a year," with no concrete commitment on when it will start.

    Regarding the removal of fuel debris from reactors No. 1 and 3, the revised plan states that the operator will consider starting with reactor No. 3, envisaging subsequent expansion of the work to reactor No. 1, based on information and experience gained from the No. 2 reactor. However, the dates for removing the debris from the No. 1 and 3 reactors similarly remain undecided.

    The government and TEPCO have projected that the decommissioning project will take 30-40 years from 2011. The latest 10-year plan extends to that time frame's halfway point, but still there is no clear outlook for the decommissioning of the reactors.

    On the reason the operator was unable to state the date for the start of the No. 2 reactor fuel debris removal, an official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry overseeing the revised action plan commented, "The effects of COVID-19 remain murky."

    As for the future of the nuclear plant site after decommissioning, locals have asked to turn it into a safe plot of vacant land, but there is no outline of this in the revised plan.

    Commenting on the form the site will take after decommissioning, Akira Ono, president of the Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., commented, "We're unable to even discuss this."

    Last summer, the Atomic Energy Society of Japan estimated that it would take at least a century before the grounds of the nuclear power plant could be reused based on the time it would take to purify soil and groundwater contaminated with radioactive materials.

    Hiroshi Miyano of the society's Study Committee on Decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi NPP, commented, "It relates to what our future picture of restoration looks like. We should quickly proceed with discussion."

    (Japanese original by Suzuko Araki and Hisashi Tsukamoto, Science & Environment News Department)

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