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METI chief Seko visits site of Chernobyl nuclear disaster

Kyodo

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko visited the site of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine on Thursday to learn lessons Japan could find useful in scrapping the nuclear reactors wrecked by the triple core meltdown in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.

The gutted No. 4 reactor at the defunct power plant in the former Soviet republic was originally entombed in a concrete “sarcophagus” to contain the radioactive fallout. But the aging of that shell spurred a project to build a fresh steel structure over it with financial aid from Japan, the United States and countries in Europe. It was completed in November.

While the construction of the new shelter cost about €1.5 billion ($1.6 billion) and represented a milestone in addressing safety concerns at the destroyed reactor, Ukraine has yet to see substantial progress in decommissioning the site.

Cranes and monitoring equipment is planned to be installed in the new shelter by this November as part of preparations for dismantling the sarcophagus and reactor No. 4, which exploded.

What remains unclear is how to remove the fuel. The site remains so dangerous that an area with a 30-km radius around the plant remains a restricted area requiring permission to enter.

Seko if the first Japanese minister to visit Chernobyl since August 2013. The METI chief also serves as minister in charge of nuclear damage compensation and decommissioning issues.

The severity level for the Fukushima disaster has been rated on par with the Chernobyl disaster at 7, the maximum on the international scale. Three reactors were tipped into meltdowns after the poorly protected Fukushima No. 1 power plant was engulfed by huge tsunami triggered by a mega-quake in the Pacific Ocean in March 2011.

Its operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., plans to finish removing the melted fuel from the three reactors and scrap them by around 2051, but it is still struggling to find out the exact location of the fuel.