A probe by nuclear regulators into the causes of the Fukushima crisis has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, with staff dispatches from Tokyo postponed to protect the 4,000 on-site decommissioning workers.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority had resumed its investigation in October, deeming radiation levels in parts of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant low enough to visit, nearly a decade since the triple core meltdown.
After repeated visits, NRA officials succeeded last December in filming scattered debris and a damaged ceiling on the third floor of the No. 3 reactor building, which was gutted by a hydrogen explosion during the crisis following the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami.
In late March, the watchdog set seven priorities for conducting the probe, including checking radiation levels on the fourth floor of the No. 3 reactor building and contamination levels in reactor building No. 2.
The NRA originally intended to send staffers to the plant every one or two weeks in April and May, but the plan came to a halt following the state of emergency declaration on April 7, which covered Tokyo and six other prefectures before going nationwide on April 16.
“It would be impermissible should the virus be brought from Tokyo in any case” to the Fukushima complex, NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said.
The NRA was compelled to cancel trips for the probe because a coronavirus infection at Fukushima No. 1 could bring the decommissioning work to a halt.
Although the declaration was completely lifted on Monday, the NRA fears it will take more time before its staff can enter the defunct plant again.
Further delays in the probe could prevent it from compiling a report on the probe by the end of the year.
“We can’t do it during the summer period,” a senior NRA official said, as it will be impossible to carry out investigations in the summer heat while wearing radiation protection gear.
The NRA is looking to restart trips to the complex in the fall, sources close to the matter said.
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