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Japan seeks de facto nationalization of crippled nuclear plant owner

Japan's government has decided to seek a de facto nationalization of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the Nikkei business daily reported on Tuesday.
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Japan's government has decided to seek a de facto nationalization of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the Nikkei business daily reported on Tuesday.

Japanese trade minister Yukio Edano will urge Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), the operator of the plant, to accept a $13 billion injection of funds, effectively nationalizing the firm by having a government-run bailout fund buy new shares in the company.

The firm, Japan's biggest utility, is saddled with huge compensation and cleanup costs after a massive earthquake and tsunami in March triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years at the plant.

Japan's government said on Dec. 21 it could take 40 years to clean up and fully decommission the plant, which went into meltdown after it was struck by the giant wave.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tepco asked a government-backed bailout body for $8.8 billion to help compensate victims of the crisis, in addition to earlier sums the government had agreed in November to provide.

The utility, also struggling with the cost of thermal fuel to make up for the loss of nuclear power, is seeking additional loans and plans to raise corporate electricity rates in April, adding to costs for thousands of consumers.

Even the four-decade cleanup timetable is ambitious, according to nuclear crisis minister Goshi Hosono.

Tepco will start removing spent fuel rods within two to three years from their pools located on the top floor of each of their reactor buildings.

After that is completed, it will start removing the melted fuel, most of which is believed to have fallen to the bottom of the core or even down to the bottom of the larger, beaker-shaped containment vessel, a process that is expected to begin in 10 years and completed 25 years from now. The location and conditions of the melted fuel is not exactly known.

That's more than twice as long as it took to remove the fuel from the Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island that suffered a partial meltdown in 1979.

The process still requires the development of robots and technology that can do much of the work remotely because of extremely high radiation levels inside the reactor buildings. Officials say they are aiming to have such robots by 2013 and start decontaminating the reactor buildings in 2014.