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Fukushima nuclear meltdown cleanup costs could rise more than five times to $58 billion

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Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)
Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)

It's been over two years since the northern coastal region of the main island of Japan was devastated by a powerful tsunami and suffered a subsequent nuclear reactor meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, located 150 miles north of Tokyo. In that time, the Japanese government and people have come a long way toward rebuilding massive property damage and ensuring the safety of the area around the nuclear meltdown site. Even the latest report on radiation levels in the plant looks much better than previous readings. But things are still far from normal: this week, the company that manages the plant, Tokyo Electric Power, on Wednesday confirmed that steam was observed in the building housing the plant's third nuclear reactor, a worrisome sign that could indicate another reaction or release of radioactive materials, though the company said that "no abnormality has been found," and that it would monitor the situation closely.

Government has only allocated about $10 billion

Worse still, Tokyo Electric Power released a report indicating that contaminated groundwater was seeping from the plant. Beyond the issues of the plant's structural integrity is the matter of the ongoing cleanup and repair costs. While Japan's Ministry of the Environment originally estimated the cost of removing nuclear materials and decontaminating the site to be $11 billion (¥1.1 trillion) over 30 years, a new report from the country's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) estimated that the cost would be at least $31 billion (¥3.13 trillion) and climb as high to $58 billion (¥5.81 trillion ), according to the French newswire service AFP. However, the Japanese government has allocated only about $10 billion (¥1 trillion) to the cost of the cleanup, as the AFP explains.

The new AIST report looked at multiple methods of decontamination of the area around the meltdown, such as turning over topsoil in nearby farmland, or removing it entirely, each which comes with its own separate costs and timeframes. Clearly, whichever path the plant's operators and the Japanese government decide to pursue, it's going to be a long and expensive road to make things right for those in the region and the upwards of 10,000 evacuees.