Stabilizing the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant by the end of the year may be impossible, senior officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Sunday, throwing a monkey wrench into plans to let evacuees return to their homes near the plant.
The confirmation of core meltdowns hitting reactors 1 through 3, accompanied by breaches to the critical pressure vessels that hold the nuclear fuel, has led officials to believe that “there will be a major delay to work” to contain the situation, one official said.
Tepco, the plant’s operator, announced on April 17 its road map for bringing the troubled reactors into a cold shutdown within six to nine months.
Even though the fuel in the No. 1 reactor was later found to have melted through the pressure vessel, the utility said as recently as May 17 that it did not see a need to revise its projections.
But “the nine months is just a target deadline for which we are making efforts,” a senior Tepco official said, indicating that the likely delay will affect the plan to review the evacuation of local residents. The government is hoping to review the order once the reactors are brought under control.
Tepco was taking steps until early May to completely fill the containment vessels housing the pressure vessels with water so the fuel could be cooled.
But on May 12, it was confirmed that a meltdown had occurred at the No. 1 reactor, forcing the utility to abandon the water entombment idea and try to install a new cooling system that decontaminates and recycles the radioactive water flooding the reactor’s turbine building instead.
Given that the contaminated water has leaked from the No. 1 reactor’s containment vessel, a Tepco official said, “We must first determine where it is leaking and seal it.”
The official added, “Unless we understand the extent of the damage, we don’t even know how long that work alone would take,” noting the need for one or two months more than previously thought to establish an entirely new cooling system.