In what is deemed as a milestone in Japan’s nuclear crisis, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda spoke to the nation on Friday announcing the cold shutdown of the crippled reactors in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
With the temperatures of the damaged reactors below the boiling point, Japan’s premier said it is time to focus on cleaning up the devastation. The state of cold shutdown essentially means “no nuclear reaction is taking place and little radiation is being emitted into the atmosphere”. This is seen as a significant feat in stabilizing the crisis and jumpstarting cleanup efforts while giving a queue for nuke plant decommissioning.
Considered as the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl, the Fukushima accident forced evacuation of about 80,000 people living in affected areas near the plant.
Even if it has achieved a triumphant cold shutdown, Japan’s government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant operator, acknowledged the gigantic task of what lies ahead and that the necessary measures on decontamination will go on for a long time.
"We’re taking a step, but it’s a big step," Toshio Nishizawa, president of TEPCO said in an interview early this week.
Experts said that the cold shutdown was nothing but symbolic. "They’re no safer today than they were basically in June," Michael Friedlander, a former senior operator at US nuclear power plants told CNN. They said it would take about 30 years until the last bit of fuel is removed from Fukushima Daiichi and the plant completely dismantled.
Meanwhile, the U.N. atomic agency IAEA welcomed the news on the Fukushima cold shutdown and said it would continue to monitor developments at the plant and provide necessary assistance.