Sunday, April 17, 2011

Japan Lays Out Roadmap For Fukushima's Nuclear Reactor Shutdown

The Japanese government and TEPCO have come up with a nine-month plan to bring the four damaged nuclear reactors into a state known as cold shutdown.
The goals are part of a two-part plan that represents Tokyo Electric’s most concrete timetable yet for controlling the reactors and improving safety conditions at the plant, which was damaged by 15-meter-high tsunami waves on March 11.

At least on paper, the program marks a turning point in the company’s struggles to shut down the reactors. For weeks, workers have fought to cool the reactors and spent fuel pools by pouring water on them. The deluge has created other problems, including a flood of contaminated water that seeped into the site and into the ocean.

But conditions have stabilized in recent days, giving the utility, widely known as Tepco, the confidence to unveil its schedule for shutting the reactors.

The first part of the plan would take about three months and include installing a cooling system to lower the temperature in the reactors and spent fuel pools, as well as reducing radiation in the surrounding area, said Tsunehisa Katsumata, the chairman of Tokyo Electric.

The second part, which would take up to six more months, would include more pumping of water, the introduction of a heat removal system and reducing the amount of contaminated water. The wreckage from the three damaged buildings would then be removed and the buildings covered.

“The company has been doing its utmost to prevent a worsening of the situation,” Mr. Katsumata told reporters. “We have put together a roadmap,” he said, adding, “We will put our full efforts into achieving these goals.”

Mr. Katsumata said that he and the company’s president, Masataka Shimizu, would consider what’s best for the company before deciding whether to resign to take the blame for the crisis. The company said Friday that it plans to distribute $600 million in initial payments to 50,000 people forced to evacuate because of the accident.

The key to the safe shutdown of the nuclear reactors is building a new coolant system to handle and remove the heat, while providing a safe environment for operators to deal with dismantling the various damaged structures.

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