Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) has unveiled a nine-month timetable to bring the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant reactors into cold shutdown.
The goals are part of a two-part blueprint that represents Tepco's most concrete timetable yet for controlling the reactors and improving safety conditions at the plant, which was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami six weeks ago, reports the New York Times.
The first part of the plan, expected to take three months, would include building a new cooling system, critical to ensuring that there are no further large-scale releases of radioactive materials. Tepco plans to fill the containment vessels of the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors with water within three months to stabilize their reactor cores - a method called "water tomb" vis-a-vis "stone coffins" employed in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
However, the "water tomb" plan is risky as the buildings housing the nuclear reactors are leaking highly radioactive water into the turbine buildings and groundwater, suggesting that the buildings may not be capable of holding water leaking from the containment vessels.
Over the next nine months, said chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, Tepco hopes to cover three badly damaged reactor buildings and install filters to reduce contamination being released into the air. Tepco also plans to seal the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor - which was damaged by a hydrogen explosion on March 15 - by filling damaged parts with sticky cement.
The announcement that a new cooling system would be built appeared to be an admission that efforts to restart the old system had failed.
Meanwhile, the government said evacuees who were forced to leave their homes near the Daiichi plant will be able to return in six to nine months, after the land is decontaminated. The announcement seemed to suggest that no places would be put off-limits, as they were after the more disastrous 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine.
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