A phased plan will first target a “cold shutdown” of the plant’s reactor cores, when temperatures are brought down under 100 degrees C.
In the second step, 60,000 tons of radioactive water that currently flood the plant will be “decreased” and decontaminated. Meanwhile the entire building will be covered with a special structure to stop radioactive material escaping.
Finally, the radiation that has spread across the 20km (12 mile) evacuation zone will be reduced and tens of thousands of residents allowed to return. The chairman of Tepco admitted that he did not know when that might happen, but Banri Kaieda, Japan’s trade minister, said some could return home within six to nine months.
There has been mounting criticism of Tepco and the Japanese government at the lack of transparency over the plant and over the nuclear industry in general.
Tepco has already been repeatedly accused of falsifying safety data even before last month’s earthquake. At the same time, the Japanese government was reported to have withheld data showing that radiation exceeded safe levels more than 18 miles from the plant, beyond the established safety zone.
In Fukushima, locals complained that the government’s decision to suddenly and inexplicably raise the alert level at the plant two notches to seven, the same level of seriousness as the Chernobyl disaster, has created a maelstrom of rumours.
As a result, there have been reports of people from Fukushima being turned away from hotels in other parts of Japan, and of the total collapse of the region’s farming industry. “The rumours are so harmful that it is not just farming and fishing that has been affected, some people are saying that even machines are contaminated!” said Shimoyamada Matsuto, a spokesman for Iwaki city’s disaster management team.
“The radiation problem is not as serious as the spread of fear,” said Midori Aoki, a 21-year-old student from Iwaki, which lies 30 miles from the nuclear plant. “People do not know what to believe and what to trust,” she added.