Part of the extensively
damaged Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear plant
in Japan
Tokyo, Japan — ESI-AFRICA.COM — 18 April 2011 – Japanese energy company Tokyo Electric Power says it hopes to achieve a ‘cold shutdown’ of its crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in six to nine months, setting a timeframe for bringing the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years under control.

In a statement released here, the company said that within three months it planned to cool reactors and spent fuel at the nuclear plant to a stable level, and to get radiation leaks on a downward trend.

In another three to six months, Asia’s largest utility aimed to secure a ‘cold shutdown’ at the plant “’ a state in which the water which cooled fuel rods was below 100 degrees celsius and the reactors were considered stable.

The firm, commonly known as TEPCO, has been struggling to stabilise the Fukushima complex, 240 km north of Tokyo, which was seriously damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and has been leaking radiation.

Shares of TEPCO, a blue-chip firm established 60 years ago, have lost three-quarters of their value since the quake amid worries over whether it would survive the crisis.

“This is the biggest crisis since the founding of our company,” TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata told a briefing in here, adding that he would likely resign to take responsibility, possibly after a shareholders’ meeting in June.

"Getting the nuclear plant under control, and the financial problems associated with that… How we can overcome these problems is a difficult matter."

Reuters reports that Japan’s crisis has now been rated on a par with the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986, although the total amount of radiation released is only a fraction of when the nuclear plant in Ukraine exploded.

After achieving a cold shutdown at the six-reactor plant, TEPCO said it would then focus on longer-term issues such as encasing the reactor buildings, cleaning up contaminated soil, and removing nuclear fuel to a safe holding place.

Two of the reactors are already in a stable state.

TEPCO has yet to determine how much it will have to pay residents and businesses uprooted by the crisis. The government has expanded the 20-km evacuation zone around the plant because of high accumulated radiation.

JP Morgan has estimated TEPCO could face US$24 billion in compensation losses in the financial year that started this month, while Bank of America-Merrill Lynch has said the bill could reach US$130 billion if the crisis continues.

The government is scrambling to come up with a scheme to limit the liability of TEPCO, which supplies roughly a third of Japan’s electricity and whose failure would likely destabilise the financial markets.