The predictions are getting worse: Japanese officials today said that it could take as many as 40 years to decommission the Fukushima nuclear plant, upping the previous estimate of 30 years. According to the detailed roadmap, TEPCO intends to spend the next two years clearing the spent fuel rods out of the storage pools situated in the reactor buildings; but the lion's share of the time will go to removing the melted nuclear fuel. That process will take some 25 years, and will necessitate the use of robots—and technologies that haven't even been invented yet, reports the New York Times.
The Wall Street Journal zeroes in on one of the toughest steps in the process: Figuring out how to drain thousands of tons of irradiated water from the reactor buildings' basements. The cracks that the earthquake created in these buildings will then be repaired, allowing the reactors to be refilled with water, which must occur before the melted fuel can be removed from them. Once that process is complete, it'll be another five to 10 years until the reactors are completely decommissioned.