TOKYO, July 9 — Tokyo Electric Power Co has met a government-set target of setting up a cooling system for the crippled nuclear reactors at Fukushima within four months of the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, a senior official was quoted as saying today.
Goshi Hosono, the government minister appointed to oversee Japan’s response to the nuclear crisis, told reporters he believed Tokyo Electric had achieved its target of establishing a stable cooling system for the reactors, the first of a series of steps needed to shut down the plant by January.
The Fukushima nuclear plant lost power after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Three of the reactors had uranium fuel meltdown, and a series of hydrogen explosions scattered radioactive debris across a wide area.
Some 80,000 people have been forced to evacuate the area around the plant because of the threat from radiation.
The government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, under fire for weeks for the handling of the disaster, had set a target of July 17 for getting a cooling system set up for the damaged uranium fuel still in the reactors.
“We will be able to achieve our initial goal thanks to the strenuous efforts of workers at the site,” Hosono was quoted as saying by the Nikkei business daily.
Government and Tokyo Electric officials are set to provide an update on efforts to stabilise Fukushima on July 19, about four months after the disaster.
Efforts to cool the Fukushima reactors currently hinge on a complex and hastily constructed system to decontaminate thousands of tonnes of water being pumped into the reactors and then to circulate it back through the reactors.
The treatment system is key to addressing a secondary threat from the nuclear accident from the radioactive water that has pooled at Fukushima.
Hosono said that the water treatment system, which began running in late June, had “overcome initial difficulties.” In trial runs, engineers discovered a series of leaks that raised new concerns about the threat to ground water and the nearby Pacific.
Once the cooling system is in place, officials have said that they can focus on work to bring the reactors to a state of “cold shutdown” by January.
At that point, the uranium in the reactor cores would be cool enough so that it would not cause water being pumped in to boil away. It would also mean that there would be little threat from another loss of power to the plant.
The government’s schedule for bringing the crippled reactors at Fukushima to a stable shutdown has been seen as a political as much as a technical document from the start.
Kan has said he will resign but has not specified when he will step aside, saying he sees it as his responsibility to see through initial recovery work and related legislation. — Reuters