From the New York Times
The star of Saturday’s press briefing was Masao Yoshida, the manager of the plant and a man now revered for his stamina over months of grueling, and often dispiriting, work.
During the briefing, he mainly stuck to the message that Tepco was hoping to deliver: “I have no doubt the reactors have been stabilized,” he said. But in an echo of the plainspokenness that won the admiration of Naoto Kan, the prime minister at the peak of the crisis, he added a note of caution: “There is still danger.”
That view is shared by many nuclear experts, who say serious challenges remain.
The biggest is the fact that the company does not know the exact condition of the fuel within the No. 1 and No. 3 reactors, whose cores appear to have melted through the inner containment vessels.
“Cold shutdown is an indication that the accident phase is over,” said Akira Tokuhiro, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Idaho in Idaho Falls, “but the next phase of cleaning up will take more than 20 years.”
During the plant tour, the bus kept moving at the most contaminated areas near the base of the reactors to limit the time there and, thus, the radiation exposure. As it did, a radiation detector on the bus jumped to 300 microsieverts per hour — high enough to reach the annual recommended maximum dosage in just over three hours.
The only humans visible in the plant were groups of workers in white hazmat suits and red or yellow hard hats. They appeared oddly out of place among the quiet pine forests over much of the plant’s grounds, populated still by dragonflies.
One worker, Hiroyuki Shida, 57, said conditions in the plant had greatly improved with new comforts like a workers’ lounge and a place to eat.
“The mood inside Fukushima Daiichi is totally different now,” said Mr. Shida, who monitors contaminated waste. “Now, radiation levels aren’t so high outside the buildings. But they are still high within the reactor buildings. And there are hot spots, so we have to be careful.”
That caution was on full display at the only building within the plant where protective clothing is not needed. Visiting journalists passed through a series of rooms where teams of workers systematically cut off the layers of protective clothing with scissors. The discarding is done in stages to limit contamination; booties come off in one room, the full body suit in another.