By Aaron Sheldrick (Reuters) – At the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant north of Tokyo, workers in protective suits are still removing radioactive material from reactors that melted down after an earthquake and tsunami knocked out its power and cooling nearly nine years ago.
On an exclusive tour of the plant, spread over 3.5 million square meters (865 acres), Reuters witnessed giant remote-controlled cranes dismantling an exhaust tower and other structures in a highly radioactive zone while spent fuel was removed from a reactor.
Officials from Tokyo Electric, which owns the plant, also showed new tanks to hold increasing amounts of contaminated water.
About 4,000 workers are tackling the cleanup, many wearing protective gear, although more than 90% of the plant is deemed to have so little radioactivity that no extra precautions are needed. Photography was highly restricted and no conversations were allowed with the workers.
Work to dismantle the plant has taken nearly a decade so far, but with Tokyo due to host the Olympics this summer – including some events less than 60 km (38 miles) from the power station – there has been renewed focus on safeguarding the venues.
“Tepco triesto disclose all information to the public as soon as possible. If something happens at the site, we let people know by email, for example,” said Kan Nihonyanagi, risk communicator at Fukushima, told Reuters in an interview at the site.
The buildup of contaminated water has been a sticking point in the cleanup, which is likely to last decades, and has alarmed neighboring countries. In 2018, Tepco said it had not been able to remove all dangerous material from the water – and the site is running out of room for storage tanks.
Officials overseeing a panel of experts looking into the contaminated water issue said in December choices on disposal should be narrowed to two: either dilute the waste and dump it in the Pacific Ocean, or allow it to evaporate.
The Japanese government may decide within months, and either process would take years to complete, experts say.