Japan said yesterday it finally had control of leaking reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, in what authorities say is a vital step on the long road to recovery, nine months after its nuclear crisis began.
In a live press conference, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told the country the crippled reactors “have reached a state of cold shutdown.”
The government is hoping the announcement will bring relief to a disaster-weary public still haunted by the effects of the monster tsunami that tore into Japan in March.
Stabilization of the reactors, whose molten cores spewed radioactive particles into the air and sea, marks the end of what the government has dubbed “Step Two” of the nuclear clean-up.
The initial success of Step One — the stable cooling of reactors and used fuel pools — was announced in July, after the quake-triggered tsunami pummeled the plant on March 11 and laid waste to much of the northeast coast.
“Today we have reached a major turning point with regard to the nuclear accident,” Noda said.
However, he warned the battle to right Japan after the world’s worst atomic accident for a generation was far from over.
“People in the affected areas may still feel compelled to ask questions about decontamination, compensation, reconstruction of livelihoods and how they can go home,” he said.
Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes in a large area around the plant as it began venting cancerous isotopes in the days after the tsunami.
Swathes of this zone remain badly polluted, with the clean-up proceeding slowly amid warnings that some towns could be uninhabitable for three decades.
Noda said yesterday that he was ordering decontamination teams into the area.
“The government ... will allocate more than ￥1 trillion [US$13 billion] [and will] secure more than 30,000 workers who will do actual decontamination work by April,” he said.
Takashi Sawada, vice chairman of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, a pro-nuclear group of academics and industry specialists, said Noda’s declaration of cold shutdown was not a dramatic shift.
Sawada stressed that the use of the term “cold shutdown” did not indicate that all four disaster-hit reactors were now completely normal.
“But I think it’s okay to say that the reactors have basically reached a stable condition of cooling,” he said, adding the amount of radiation leaking from the plant is now a tiny fraction of what it was in March.