Japan's Fukushima plant dismantling needs over 30 yrs

TOKYO Fri Oct 28, 2011 8:43am EDT

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TOKYO Oct 28 (Reuters) - Japan will likely need more than 30 years to dismantle the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Atomic Energy Commission said on Friday, underscoring its prolonged challenges after the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March knocked out cooling functions at Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, causing fuel rod meltdowns and radiation leakage into the atmosphere.

A subcommittee of the Atomic Energy Commission, comprising nuclear and other experts who recommend the direction of nuclear policy to the government, called for the removal of melted nuclear fuel rods to start within 10 years.

At the Three Mile Island plant in the United States, fuel removal started six and a half years after the meltdown accident in 1979, but it will likely take longer at the Fukushima complex since it suffered a severer accident, the subcommittee said in a draft report.

The subcommittee estimated it would take more than three decades to complete the process of taking out melted fuel rods from damaged reactors and dismantling the plant, where workers still face high levels of radioactive water and debris.

The report did not provide estimated costs for the whole dismantling process.

Tepco has acknowledged that it may not be able to remove the fuel from the reactors for another 10 years and experts say cleanup at the plant could take several decades.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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