Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant had finally stabilized, after the facility achieved a state of “cold shutdown.” The announcement comes nearly 9 months after a massive tsunami struck Fukushima, plunging the area into a state of nuclear crisis.
The cold shutdown was declared once it was determined water used to heat the nuclear fuel rods would remain below boiling point. Although temperatures in all three reactors had been below boiling point since September, the operator of the plant, Tepco, waited before making the announcement to ensure temperatures would remain that way.
Mr. Noda confirmed that the Fukushima situation had thus reached the end of the “accident phase” and that efforts could turn from “trying to stabilise the nuclear reactors to decommissioning them.”
However, the battle is not yet over, as the government must now commence efforts to clean-up the area and decontaminate the ground surrounding the plant. Estimates suggest that completely decommissioning the plant and cleaning up the area could take over 40 years.
More than 80,000 people were forced to evacuate the area following the Fukushima meltdown, but radiation levels still remain too high to allow them home. Radiation was found in foodstuffs from the region, including rice, fish, and beef and in soil in nearby areas.
In the meantime, Japanese officials are reconsidering their plans for 50% of all electricity to be generated from nuclear energy in 2030. Other viable alternatives have been proposed, such as tapping into Japan’s huge geothermal resources.