Japanese officials are preparing to finally declare the Fukushima power plant in a state of cold shutdown as early as 9am tomorrow (GMT). Now they can begin the estimated 40-year process of dismantling the site and repopulating the area.
Cold shutdown is when the water used to cool the fuel rods is lowered below the boiling point, which brings the reactor subcritical—meaning the nuclear reaction isn't self-sustaining. The reactors at Fukushima have actually been in cold shutdown since September but officials have been hesitant to declare the all-clear on account of occasional temperature spikes in the system. And the fact that an official announcement of that shutdown stipulates some 80,000 residents will be allowed back within the 12-mile exclusion zone.
As for the plant, it's being demolished. Very slowly. Officials believe they'll be able to begin removing intact fuel rods for shipment and storage off-site by next year. The rods that went critical and melted down likely won't be accessible for another decade. An area of 930 square miles around the plant may need decontamination too. The entire cleanup process is expected to last 40 years. And as for TEPCO, the plant's owner, it's being nationalized. The Japanese government is injecting $13 billion dollars into the company to prevent its collapse. [Reuters - Image: The AP]