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Japan Watchdog Takes Bigger Role in Fukushima Decommissioning

Japan’s regulator today approved safety plans for decommissioning the Fukushima nuclear plant, a move that also gives the watchdog authority to step in and direct the operation if procedures are not followed.

The green light by the Nuclear Regulation Authority was needed to proceed with the “roadmap” proposed by Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, for dismantling the plant, a process that could take 40 years because of melted uranium fuel and deadly levels of radiation.

The ruling comes only days after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tepco isn’t up to the job of containing radioactive water leaking from the plant into the Pacific Ocean. Tepco acknowledged the leaks last month. At least 300 tons of water a day is pouring into the sea and the leaks may have been happening for two years, albeit at a slower pace, the government said last week.

Three reactors at Fukushima went into meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 crippled the plant, causing the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

Tepco will start removing spent fuel rods at the plant within two years, according to the roadmap released in December 2011. Engineers will attempt to start removing melted fuel from one of the reactors within a decade, it said.

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