As we predicted yesterday, government officials in Japan voted today on whether to declare a “cold shutdown” of the damaged nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – and they’ve announced that they officially have the reactor under control, much to the dismay of nuclear specialists around the world who say that the reactor is still in a precarious position. The term “cold shutdown” is generally used for healthy reactors that were purposefully shut down and dismantled, not those damaged irreparably like those at Fukushima, however the Japanese government has gone ahead with the announcement and stated today that they’ll now start to dismantle the reactor.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda spoke to reporters from his office today and stated, “a stable condition has been achieved, and we can consider the accident itself contained.” He noted that the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) were able to stabilize the reactor, but nuclear specialists around the world say that the methods used are temporary and could be severely compromised if another earthquake or natural disaster were to occur. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that TEPCO would have had to bring the temperature of the cooling system at the damaged nuclear reactor down to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Specialists have noted that though a makeshift cooling system has worked so far, the damaged fuel rods have melted through all of their protective barriers and remain unstabilized at the core of the reactor.
Arnie Gunderson, an American nuclear engineer who testified about Fukushima to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has studied the disaster and says that though it is good that TEPCO has brought the core temperatures down, it doesn’t change the fact that they are still in a delicate position. “I don’t know why they choose to say cold shutdown because that’s an affront to those in the industry who really know what the term means,” he told Bloomberg News. “That nuclear core is still in a configuration where the center is extraordinarily hot.” With this announcement, despite the warnings of nuclear specialists around the world, the Japanese government has said they’ll start moving displaced communities back to the Fukushima area so they can rebuild their lives.
Many believe that the Japanese government and TEPCO have made this decision hastily before actually securing the reactor to appease the Japanese public, who are fed up with the government’s handling of the nuclear disaster. Nuclear specialists say that the hardest part of the process is yet to come, and that dismantling the damaged reactors and making them truly safe will be a harrowing task. Gunderson thinks that the Japanese government and TEPCO are just setting themselves up for another future public relations disaster. “I actually think it’s going to blow up in their face,” he said to Bloomberg News . “In the eyes of the Japanese public, the last thing they need to do is exaggerate. And this is an exaggeration.”