Officials say Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is relatively stable, but a government panel still believes it will be at least 30 years before it can be safely decommissioned and closed. The panel of experts, named by Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission, noted that it took a decade to remove nuclear fuel after the US’ Three Mile Island accident; at Fukushima, that process is expected to take longer, cost more, and be more complicated. For instance, the removal of the fuel rods will not even begin until 2021.
The damaged reactors have been cooled and far less radiation is leaking, but plant workers are still struggling to contain it and radiation “hot spots” are still being discovered in and around nearby Tokyo. A recent report put the estimated cost of the shutdown process at more than $19 billion. For now, the AP reports, one of the damaged units has been covered in airtight polyester, and other buildings will soon have similar covers; a 12-mile exclusion zone is still in effect around the plant.