The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant must get its act together and stabilize the plant's "essential systems," the International Atomic Energy Agency urged on Monday, saying that it will likely take more time than the 40 years to properly decommission the site.
The prepared statements from the IAEA were released just hours after Fukushima operator TEPCO said it had switched off a reactor cooling system after discovering two dead rats near critical equipment—the third time in five weeks that cooling equipment at the site has gone off-line because of rodents.
In addition, the site has experienced a series of incidents in recent months, including multiple leaks of radioactive water and power outages within the plant's struggling cooling systems.
"As for the duration of the decommissioning project," said the IAEA's Juan Carlos Lentijo, "it will be nearly impossible to ensure the time for decommissioning such a complex facility in less than 30-40 years as it is currently established in the road-map."
Lentijo's comments were presented alongside an IAEA statement released Monday which criticized TEPCO's performance and urged the company to "improve the reliability of essential systems" crucial to "the structural integrity of site facilities" and "to enhance protection against external hazards."
Last week the IAEA inspected the crippled plant and held meetings with officials from TEPCO and the Japanese government.
"It is expectable in such a complex site, additional incidence will occur as it happened in the nuclear plants under normal operations," Lentijo said. "It is important to have a very good capability to identify as promptly as possible failures and to establish compensatory measures."
Associated Press adds:
Just over the past few weeks, the plant suffered nearly a dozen problems ranging from extensive power outages and leaks of highly radioactive water from underground water pools. On Monday, TEPCO had to stop the cooling system for one of the fuel storage pools for safety checks after finding two dead rats inside a transformer box.
Earlier this month, a rat short-circuited a switchboard, causing an extensive outage and cooling loss for up to 30 hours. Lentijo said water management is "probably the most challenging" task for the plant at the moment.
The problems have raised concerns about whether the plant, crippled by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, can stay intact throughout a decommissioning process. The problems have prompted officials to compile risk-reduction measures and review decommissioning plans.