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article imageTepco begins 'crucial stage' of decommissioning at Fukushima

By Karen Graham     Jul 28, 2015 in World
Tokyo - A crucial and delicate stage of the decommissioning process began on Tuesday at Tepco's Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. It is going to take decades to complete the process, requiring pains-taking and time-consuming work.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered meltdowns in three of its six reactors after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit in March 2011. Over 16,000 people were killed and 300,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes after a large area of land was left contaminated and unlivable.
Tepco workers began the process of removing one of the six 136-foot covers draped over one of the plant's three ruined nuclear reactors today. The covers are supposed to keep radiation from seeping out of the reactor cores. After the covers are removed, workers can get to the 292 spent fuel rods inside.
Tepco anticipates that by the end of next year, all the covers will have been removed. Then the process of removing all the spent fuel rods will commence. Tepco officials say the extraction process should begin in 2020.
"For the safety of Fukushima's residents, we would like the work to proceed with extra care," Takao Kiroko, who heads a group of monitors watching the process, told the state-run broadcaster NHK, according to NBC News.
The decommissioning process was supposed to have started last July, but concern over the possibility of radiation particles being spread into the air caused the project to be delayed. Added to this concern was the company's struggle to contain leaks from temporary storage tanks holding contaminated water that was seeping into the groundwater and flowing into the ocean.
Tepco says they have poured chemicals over the top of the roof of the reactor to prevent the escape of any dust and radioactive particles, after removing a panel exposing a portion of the reactor building destroyed in the hydrogen explosion in the wake of the No. 1 reactor's meltdown, according to the Japan Times.
Fukushima compensation increased to ¥7 trillion
In other Fukushima news, Japan approved an increase in compensation payments for the Fukushima disaster to 7.07 trillion yen ($57.18 billion). There are still tens of thousands of people in temporary housing four years after the disaster.
Tepco will receive an additional ¥950 billion in public funds on top of the ¥6.125 trillion agreed earlier, the utility and the government told the Japan Times on Tuesday. The additional funds will end up being absorbed by the taxpayers with increased electric bills. Electric bills have already risen 25 percent since 2011's disaster.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is revoking evacuation orders for most people within the next two years as part of a plan to cap compensation payouts and speed up reconstruction. While Tepco is working to reduce radiation levels in towns closest to the plant, some areas will remain off-limits for decades to come.
With the cleanup and decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant expected to take over 30 years, and with cost estimates in the tens of billions of dollars, it leaves some wondering how much more the Japanese people will end up paying.
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