Japan open to all ideas on how Fukushima No. 1 can be scrapped

AFP-JIJI

Japan will solicit proposals from both domestic and overseas nuclear experts and firms on how best to scrap the ruined reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, officials said Thursday.

The International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning will publicly seek ideas as early as this month, an institute official said.

While it is not presently putting the entire decommissioning process out to tender, the body’s move will be welcomed by the international community, which has long called for Japan to make better use of available expertise around the globe.

The institute, formed by nuclear-related firms and government-backed bodies in August to dismantle the crippled reactors, will screen decommissioning proposals and take the results to the government, the official said.

“We will set up a website in both Japanese and English to notify interested parties at home and abroad of our calls for decommissioning ideas so that we can offer more useful and practical proposals to the government,” the official said.

The central government has played an increasingly active role in the clean-up at Fukushima, where the March 2011 tsunami disabled cooling systems, sending three reactors into meltdown.

Tepco, which was effectively nationalized by a huge government cash injection to prevent its bankruptcy, has come in for growing criticism over its handling of the disaster.

Frequent mishaps, including radioactive water spills and a power outage caused by a rat, have not helped its standing in the eyes of the global public.

Tepco’s own estimates suggest that the full decommissioning of the site could take up to four decades and that much of the trickier work is yet to be done — notably the removal of reactor cores that have probably melted beyond recognition.

According to the utility’s own plan, these cores — which are feared to have entered the containment vessels and possibly even eaten through thick concrete — are to be removed around summer 2020.

Although Tepco claims the reactors are now under control, critics say the plant remains in a precarious state and at the mercy of extreme weather or further earthquakes. They point out that there is still no plan for the thousands of tons of water being stored on-site.

Tens of thousands of people who were evacuated from the area around the plant are still unable to return home, and scientists have said some areas will have to be abandoned forever because of radioactive contamination.