Tokyo, Japan — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 16 May 2011 – Japanese officials are readying a new approach to cooling reactors at the Fukushima nuclear plant, after discovering an Olympic swimming pool-sized pond of radio-active water in the basement of a unit crippled by the March earthquake and tsunami.
The discovery has forced officials to abandon their original plan to bring under control the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi plant as they focus on how to deal with the rising pool that some experts see as a threat to groundwater and the Pacific coast.
Despite the setback, Japanese nuclear safety officials and the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), plan to stick to a target of stabilising the plant and bringing its reactors to a state of ‘cold shutdown’ by January.
At that point, the fuel at the core of the reactors would have dropped in temperature and would no longer be capable of boiling the surrounding water.
“We want to preserve the timetable, but at the same time we’re going to have to change our approach,” adviser to the prime minister Goshi Hosono told a television talk show here.
Some outside experts have questioned whether the initial timetable for Fukushima was too optimistic. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake and the tsunami that followed unleashed the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986.
“We would be cautious about saying the danger is over until the decontamination and cleanup of the site are well under way with no more leakage,” Paris-based Nuclear Energy Agency spokesman Serge Gas said in an email.
Tepco is scheduled to provide an update on progress tomorrow. Hosono said the government would announce its own timetable then as well.
Tepco is preparing to pay compensation to thousands of residents, farmers, fisherman and businesses for the disaster under a plan directed and partly funded by the government.
The earthquake and ensuing 15-metre tsunami devastated Japan’s northeastern coast, killing more than 15,000 people. An additional 9,500 are still missing.