TOKYO Oct 18 The operator of Japan's
tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant said on Monday that
the amount of radiation being emitted from the complex has
halved from a month ago, in the latest sign that efforts to
bring the facility under control are progressing.
Operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said at a
monthly review that the damaged reactors at the Daiichi plant,
240 kilometres (150 miles) northeast of Tokyo, were emitting
about 100 million becquerels of radiation per hour, about one
eight-millionth of the amount seen in the days after the March
11 disaster and half of what it announced a month ago.
It said the latest figure translates to about 0.2
millisievert per year of radiation measured at the fringes of
the plant, below the 1 millisievert safety limit set out in
HOW HAS TEPCO GOT TO THIS STAGE?
The decline in emitted radiation follows a drop in
temperature at the plant's three damaged reactors, which
suffered nuclear fuel meltdowns in the first days of the crisis
as the water meant to cool them evaporated after the tsunami
knocked out their cooling systems.
"We see a relationship between the drop in temperature and
the decline in the amount of radiation the plant emits. When
temperatures at the reactors are high, it means that substances
spread into the air along with evaporating water," said a
spokeswoman for Tepco.
Immediately after the disaster Tepco tried to cool the
reactors by pouring in tens of thousands of tonnes of water,
much of it from the sea. But that left a vast pool of tainted
runoff, some stored in huge tanks and some in the basements of
the reactor buildings, that threatened to leak into the ocean.
The cooling progressed after Tepco alleviated this problem
by building a system that decontaminates the tainted water and
then reuses some of it to cool the reactors and spent fuel
Temperatures at all three damaged reactors dropped below 100
degrees Celsius at the end of September, a state technically
defined as cold shutdown as water used to cool nuclear fuel rods
remains below boiling point and prevents the fuel from
Tepco has also nearly completed the construction of a giant
barn-like structure to cover one of the three reactors, which it
says will further limit the spread of radiation.
Tepco and the government have held off from declaring that
cold shutdown has been reached although temperatures at all
three reactors are below 100 degrees.
"We still need to proceed with care. We need to continue
monitoring whether the temperatures of the reactors and
radiation levels being emitted remain stable going forward,"
Yoshinori Moriyama, deputy director-general of the government
watchdog Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency, said to reporters
Tepco has, however, brought forward its cleanup plan, saying
it wants to declare cold shutdown has been achieved this year
instead of by January as initially planned.
Declaring cold shutdown will have repercussions well beyond
the plant as it is one of the criteria the government said must
be met before it begins allowing the 80,000 residents evacuated
from within a 20 km radius of the facility to return home.
Even if a cold shutdown is declared, 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