On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and nuclear disaster, the end of the decommissioning process at the Fukushima No. 1 plant is still several decades away.

Tepco said Feb. 28 that it had removed all 566 nuclear fuel assemblies from the spent fuel pool of the No. 3 reactor. It aims to finish pulling all fuel assemblies out of other reactor buildings by the end of 2031, while the process of dealing with fuel in the three containment vessels where meltdowns occurred has yet to begin.

Complicating matters, radiation levels around the tops of the No. 2 and No. 3 reactor containment vessels suggest a high concentration of radioactive cesium has accumulated in the lids. It was previously believed that all the radioactive material had sunk to the bottom of the vessels.

Japan still battling to decommission crippled Fukushima plant 10 years on | AFP NEWS AGENCY
Japan still battling to decommission crippled Fukushima plant 10 years on | AFP NEWS AGENCY

On a visit to Fukushima on Saturday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed to continue work to allow 3/11 evacuees to return to homes in the prefecture. No-go zones still extend through six towns and villages, with parts of those zones now designated as “special reconstruction districts” where efforts at decontamination will be concentrated so that residents can one day come back.

However, as the Fukushima Minpo reports, the government’s use of two wildly different radiation exposure levels — 20 millisieverts and 1 millisievert a year — as safety yardsticks is sowing confusion and distrust among former residents as they wait to return.

On average, 15% of land in the “special decontamination area” surrounding the No. 1 plant has been cleaned up, according to Greenpeace, despite government claims that the area has largely been decontaminated. The NGO said its own radiation surveys over the last decade have consistently found readings above government target levels, even in areas that have reopened to the public.