Japan Nuclear Power Plant Cleanup Behind Schedule

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Japanese authorities reported Monday that radiation cleanup from the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster is running behind, leaving some of the most contaminated towns still exposed, though residents were evacuated at the time of the meltdown.

Officials from the Environment Ministry are revising the schedule for the cleanup, which originally called for all cleanup to be completed by March 2014, three years after the damage occurred. The official in charge of decontamination for the Ministry, Shigeyoshi Sato, gave vague time frames, not worthy of the label estimates, for the extension, "We will have to extend the cleanup process, by one year, two years or three years, we haven't exactly decided yet."

Six of the original 11 municipalities are located within an exclusion zone in which residents are still banned from living. Tokyo has allowed day visits to homes and businesses in some of the municipalities after initial decontamination efforts covered the areas.

The towns were evacuated after the March 2011 meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant which resulted from the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that hit the island nation. Japan has suffered more natural disasters, and casualties, at the hands of Mother Nature, as recently as last week when Typhoon Wipha hit.

Sato listed a number of reasons for the delay, among them, the lack of room for the decontamination waste. Some citizens are understandably opposed to dumping the waste in their neighborhoods.

The plant itself is also a continued source of problems. Monday, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) which operates the facility revealed that radioactive water overflowed barriers into the plant after Tepco underestimated the amount of rainfall and was unable to pump it out quickly enough.

The containment of the radioactive water at the complex has been a constant battle. The plant is to be decommissioned but the process for that will last decades. Earlier in 2013, a rat shorted out wiring at the plant which shut off cooling to the spent uranium fuel rods.

Tepco plans to prepare 30 extra pumps and miles of piping to prevent another overflow. The Japanese government has allotted half a billion dollars to help contain contaminated water at Dai-ichi and increased support in September.

Despite all the negative news, the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the area last week and in their preliminary report that came out Monday, the IAEA praised the progress Japan had made in decontaminating some farmland and with its involvement of key local figures in the work, helping to gain the trust of the people in those communities.

[Image via Wikimedia Commons.]

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