A Japanesee Governmentt panel says it will take at least 3O years to safely close the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

The plant, site of the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in l986, was severely damaged by Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

It suffered power outages, meltdowns and explosions that released radioactive material and forced tens of thousands of people to flee the area.

While officials say the plant, about 240km north-east of Tokyo, is now relatively stable, an expert panel named by Japan's Atomic Energy Commission said it would likely take 3O years or more to safely decommission it.

The panel made the estimate in the draft of a report to be completed by the end of the year.

The draft was posted on the commission's website at the weekend.

Plant workers are still struggling to contain radiation leaking from the plant, athough the amount is far less than before.

The panel noted that it took 10 years to remove nuclear fuel after the l979 Three Mile Island accident in the United States, and suggested that the process at Fukushima would be much more complicated and time-consuming.

It is a1so expected to be more costly. A report on Saturday in the Yomiuri, a major newspaper, said independent experts believe the process will cost more than l.5 trillion yen ($A18.52 billion).

The massive earthquake and tsunami in March triggered meltdowns at three of the plant's six reactors.

Officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co say they have largely succeeded in cooling the damaged reactors, meeting a goal of completing what is called a ''cold shut-down". But extensive repairs and safety measures must still be carried out.

The panel said removal of the fuel rods at Fukushima would not begin until 2021, after the repair of the plant's containment vessels.

As a stop-gap measure, one of the damaged units now has an outer shell made of airtight polyester designed to contain radioactive particles inside the building. Similar covers are planned. for other buildings.

Government officials must also deal with a massive decontamination effort in areas around the plant. A 20km exclusion zone around the facility remains in effect.

While the worst appears to be over, recent discoveries of radiation ''hot spots" in and around Tokyo have caused fear.

Canberra Times p11, 1 November 2011

contact: Bruce A. Peterson 728th access Last modified: Tue 1 Nov 2011