A key decision in decommissioning the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is being delayed. The Japanese government and operator made the announcement on Tuesday while giving an update on the roadmap for scrapping the plant.
In their first such update in 2 years, officials said they will postpone their decision on the method for removing molten fuel debris by one year, until fiscal 2019.
Experts believe that when the plant went into triple meltdown in 2011, most of the fuel inside the reactors collected at the bottom of containment vessels. They still don't know the exact location, but possible molten fuel debris was caught on camera in July. The removal of this debris is considered the most challenging part of the plant's decommissioning.
Originally, officials considered filling the containment vessels with water to block radiation while removing the debris. But now, they say they're leaning towards a method called dry removal.
Experts say that method comes with safety challenges. "Because the containment vessel will not be filled with water, there is a possibility that radioactive substances may leak and get dispersed," says Hosei University Visiting Professor Hiroshi Miyano.
Officials also gave an update on plans for the removal of spent nuclear fuel rods in 2 of the plants reactors. The rods are in storage pools and won't be removed until fiscal 2023. That's 3 years later than planned. The official timeline for scrapping the plant remains the same -- about 30 to 40 years in total.