It took 131 days to stabilize the Fukushima #1 (Daiichi) power plant, and after setting the goal in April to achieve cold shutdown by the end of this year, TEPCO finally announced that they had succeeded. This means that the water used to cool the nuclear fuel rods is below the boiling point. That means that they won’t reheat, which in turn means that radiation levels can now be kept securely at low levels, even if another damaging quake occurs. How much does this mean for the country? Some are skeptical.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda gave the announcement in a press conference. The good news implied that the radiation the reactors emit would be no more than one millisieverts per year, the limit set by the government. But Wall Street Journal had this to say:
“Indeed, there can be few firm declarations about the plant’s status. Daiichi’s reactors are littered with debris. Many measurement and control systems are on the blink. Radiation levels are too high for people to get close to the reactors, leaving engineers and scientists to make important judgments using computer simulations, scattered bits of data and guesses.
This modeling has led to dire assessments, such as Tepco’s announcement late last month that fuel in the complex’s No. 1 reactor likely melted completely through its pressure vessel and into a cement floor of the surrounding containment vessel. Hard information is so scarce that Tepco officials say they still aren’t sure how the meltdowns unfolded and about the current state of the nuclear fuel.”
So it’s clear the celebrating now would be premature; but at least they finally achieved it. The cold shutdown basically marks a major milestone, because it’s very unlikely that the power plant will repeat its problem that it had over the past 9 months; but some experts are skeptical, such as American power plant operator Michael Friedlander, saying that the cold shutdown is really only symbolic.
It seems to me that reports like the telegraph are the most responsible, putting the announcement into perspective, without completely undermining it.
Achieving cold shutdown may mark an important milestone in the recovery process, however, it will not mean that Japan’s problems are over: it will simply mark the next chapter of a painfully long recovery process for the nation.
In fact, the recovery process will probably take decades, and the reports in the Japanese media are that the exclusion zone around the Fukushima power plant will continue for 40 or 50 years. This basically means that the inhabitants who fled will never return home. Frankly, most of them will be dead, considering how the average age of the people affected was so high. And by the time the ban is lifted, the young survivors may not call it home anymore anyways.
There are still 70,000 “nuclear refugees;” so the cold shutdown is admittedly a bittersweet announcement for those who have already lost everything.