The temperature of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant's No. 3 reactor is below 100 degrees, indicating that a cold shutdown may be within reach, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday
It is the first time the temperature at the bottom of unit 3's pressure vessel has fallen below 100 since the nuclear crisis was triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Reactor 1 is even lower — below 90 — but Tepco said it is too early to determine whether it achieved cold shutdown because it needs to re-evaluate the amount of fuel left inside.
Tepco said a new cooling method that involves showering the reactor core with water probably helped lower the temperature of reactor 3 and that it is considering applying the method to reactor 2 as well.
The cores of reactors 1 through 3 are assumed to have melted, and the fuel is believed to have sunken and solidified at the bottom of their pressure vessels.
The vessels must be below 100 degrees to achieve cold shutdown, which is defined by the government and Tepco as a state in which the release of radioactive materials is under control and exposure doses have been significantly reduced.
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's new industry minister Yoshio Hachiro said Monday he aims to resume operation of idled nuclear reactors in Japan "as soon as possible" once local governments approve their resumption.
Hachiro suggested in a group interview with media organizations that the resumption of reactors idled for regular checks could take place before the detailed cause of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant becomes clear, saying it is "impossible" to investigate the cause within a few months.
"If people in the local areas (hosting nuclear power plants) approve, I hope (the resumption) will take place as soon as possible, although I cannot foresee whether it will be before the end of this year," Hachiro said.
With Shikoku Electric Power Co. having halted a reactor at its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture on Sunday for a scheduled checkup, only 11 of Japan's 54 commercial reactors are currently in operation.
Halted reactors are required to pass so-called nuclear "stress tests" introduced by the government in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis to allay public concern about the safety of nuclear power.
Even if the idled reactors are not reactivated, Hachiro said the government will likely be able to avoid issuing an electricity savings order this winter as utility companies across the nation are expected to help each other in ensuring sufficient power supply capacity.
The Japanese government restricted electricity consumption by large-lot users in eastern and northeastern Japan this summer for the first time in 37 years, to avert a power crunch in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
On the export of nuclear power plants, Hachiro said, "Considering contracts with partner countries, and if they still wish (to import,)...I think exporting would be necessary."
But he added that the government needs to place priority on bringing the Fukushima nuclear crisis under control soon, decontamination of released radioactive materials, and investigation of the Fukushima accident.
He refrained from commenting on whether he would decide on Japan's participation in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations by the time of a summit meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November.
"Given the issue of disaster-hit areas and the issue of the hollowing out of (Japan's) industry under the impact of the yen's appreciation, we face various challenges and we are not at the stage to make a judgment."
Nine Asia-Pacific countries including the United States and Australia have been negotiating on the TPP hoping to conclude their talks at the APEC summit meeting, to be held in Honolulu.
Japan had aimed to decide by around June whether to join the TPP negotiations, but the deadline was effectively put off after the March disaster.
Hachiro, meanwhile, said the government needs to swiftly implement a five percent cut in corporate tax planned by the government under the previous Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
"A five percent cut in corporate tax is undoubtedly necessary at this stage," Hachiro said, citing concern over the adverse economic impact of the yen's recent appreciation to a postwar record high against the dollar.
But the tax cut is a matter that requires the agreement of both the ruling and opposition parties, he added.
Meanwhile, Hachiro said Tuesday that the number of Japan's nuclear power plants would be "zero" in the future, based on Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's policy of not building new nuclear power plants and decommissioning aged ones.
"Considering the premier's remarks at press conferences, it would be zero," Hachiro told reporters in answer to the question whether the number of nuclear plants would reduce to none in the future.
Hachiro added that it would be "difficult" to proceed with plans to build new nuclear plants whose construction has yet to begin, such as Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s Kaminoseki plant in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
(Mainichi Japan) September 6, 2011