The nuclear reactors crippled by the March quake and tsunami at the Fukushima plant may be brought to a cold shutdown during this month.
The date of December 16 was reported by the Japanese press as an important milestone in the efforts to bring the ongoing nuclear crisis one step closer to a resolution.
A cold shutdown is reached when the water used to cool down nuclear fuel rods remains under its boiling point, preventing the fuel from heating again. Internal data from Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of the Fukushima plant, showed at the end of November that the temperatures of the nuclear fuel lying at the bottom of the containment vessel have been stabilized.
If the prime minister Yoshihiko Noda declares a cold shutdown at the plant, it would be an important step towards the end of the nuclear crisis. For example, it may allow the government to end the evacuation period for about 80,000 residents on a 20 kilometer area around the plant who have been forced to leave their homes.
Cleanup at the plant may however continue for decades, experts say.