Japan praised for progress in decommissioning nuclear reactor

IAEA team at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Photo: IAEA/Greg Webb (file)

Japan has been praised by the UN's atomic energy agency, for the progress it has made in shutting down a nuclear reactor which was damaged by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

High levels of radiation were recorded around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in the north of the country following the tsunami.

An expert team form the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has just completed a review of the decommissioning or deactivating process.

Daniel Dickinson has more details.

The earthquake and resulting tsunami of March 2011 caused severe damage to the Fukushima Daiichi power plant….releasing what were described as serious levels of radiation.

Around 150,000 local people were evacuated after the meltdown of three nuclear reactors.

It was decided the safest way forward was to decommission the plant.

The IAEA has been supporting that process over the past four years.

A 15-member team has just visited the plant and has completed a third review of the progress made by Japan.

Juan Carlos Lentijo, is a Director at the IAEA.

“I came here in May 2011, just a couple of months after the accident. At that time, the situation was a bit chaotic. They did not at that time yet achieved real stable situation, while now what we have seen is dramatically different.”

The review team examined a wide variety of issues related to decommissioning the tsunami-stricken nuclear facility.

They focused particularly on the safety and technological aspects of decommissioning, the management of radioactive waste and the control of contaminated water.

Naohiro Masuda, is the Chief Decommissioning Officer of TEPCO, the company which now manages the plant.

“The decommissioning work that we are undertaking at Fukushima Daiichi is something that nobody has ever done before. Conducting such work safely and steadily is not something that TEPCO can do alone. In fact TEPCO needs to be humble about completing this task. For this, we need the wisdom from all the world and for this, an organization like the IAEA plays a very important role.”

One of the most delicate jobs is the removal of spent and damaged fuel. Mr Masuda says the IAEA is a crucial partner in the process.

"The IAEA also checks that the work we are doing is correct and makes suggestions regarding other ways of doing things. We provide information to the IAEA, but also benefit from the organisation’s worldwide experience.”

Decommissioning a nuclear power plant is a complicated task and problems remain, such as the accumulation of contaminated water on the site.

It's still not clear how long the process will take, although some nuclear experts have said it could be as long as 30 to 40 years.

Daniel, Dickinson, United Nations.

Duration: 2’49″

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