An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection team spent 10 days at the plant and reports that progress is being made, although the situation is still "very complex."
"The team considers that since our previous mission in April this year, Japan has achieved good progress in improving its strategy and in allocating necessary resources… the situation remains very complex… there are still very challenging issues that must be solved…" Juan Carlos Lentijo, IAEA inspection team leader
Plant operator TEPCO started removing 1,533 spent nuclear fuel rods from a storage pool at Fukushima's Reactor 4 on Nov. 18. The rods must be kept submerged in water at all times. An accident would likely cause the release of radiation.
A new crane has been installed for the extraction. The rods have stayed in a storage pool since the March 2011 tsunami that crippled the plant. At the time, an explosion heavily damaged the building and sent debris into the pool, which may have damaged the rods.
A proposal by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party reported by Reuters on Oct. 30 says TEPCO should no longer be exclusively responsible for decommissioning the Fukushima plant. It recommends that TEPCO form a new internal unit or a separate company, or join a government agency.
On Nov. 19 former Premier Junichiro Koizumi held his first news conference since retiring in 2008 to criticize Abe's plan to quickly restart Japan's nuclear reactors. Koizumi, formerly a nuclear power supporter, labeled it "irresponsible and overly optimistic." He also called for a ban on nuclear power.
TEPCO said on Oct. 10 that seawater radioactivity readings on Oct. 9, in the ocean directly adjacent to one of the reactors, spiked to 13 times the levels of Oct. 8 — the highest level of radioactivity in the waters near the plant in two years.
280,000 tons of radioactive water are stored at the site in steel tanks. Four hundred tons of contaminated groundwater build up daily and 300 tons of contaminated ground water seeps into the Pacific Ocean daily.
The entire Fukushima cleanup operation is estimated to take 30-40 years and cost $100 billion, in addition to compensation payouts to those affected by the disaster. TEPCO has so far requested $38 billion from the Japanese government to assist with legal claims.
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