Three years after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami nearly triggered a nuclear cataclysm in central Japan, conditions at the shattered Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant don’t inspire confidence. Radiation levels in the surrounding area will keep more than 150,000 residents from returning to their homes for years, if ever. Groundwater flowing under the rubbled reactors, where it is contaminated by radioactivity, is accumulating at the rate of 400 tons a day in more than 1,100 tanks, some of which are leaking the water into the nearby ocean.

Dismantling the plant will call for an unprecedented removal of molten fuel from the three reactors that melted down; all told, the decommissioning process could take four decades and cost as much as 11 trillion yen ($106 billion). And that’s if things go well and, God forbid, another huge earthquake doesn’t hit.

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