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76 months after Fukushima nuclear catastrophe began, TEPCO located melted core

As reported by Martin Fackler in the New York Times, it took a "divine [robot] mission" to begin to locate the melted down core of the Unit 3 reactor (the one that suffered the worst explosion) at Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

This came after multiple failed robot missions in the past, often a result of robots getting stuck in debris, and their electronics fried by intense radioactivity levels measuring as high as 7,000 Rems per hour (exposure to 1,000 Rems would kill most humans exposed to it in a short period of time).

TEPCO and the Japanese government hope the location, at long last, of the melted cores will mark a turning point in the effort to transition from nuclear emergency response, to radiological cleanup. However, even they admit the decommissioning process will take many decades, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars.

This may be quite optimistic. Recent economic analyses have predicted a total, full cost accounting price tag for Fukushima nuclear catastrophe recovery of more than $600 billion (yes, with a B), three times what TEPCO and the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration have admitted.

And of course, this assumes nothing more will go badly.

Other shoes that could still drop at Fukushima Daiichi include highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel, still stored in damaged reactor unit pools, that are years away from removal to a safer location. A pool fire that was narrowly dodged (through sheer luck) at Unit 4 in March-April 2011 could have led to the evacuation of 35-50 million people from metro Tokyo and northeast Japan, according to the then-serving Japanese Prime Minister, Naoto Kan. He has said such an event would have amounted to the end of the State of Japan.

Also, more than 800,000 tons of highly contaminated radioactive wastewater are stored in more than a thousand shoddy tanks across the site (see photo, above left). An earthquake, for example, could damage the tanks, leading to a massive release of contamination into the ground, groundwater, ditches, and trenches, all of which lead to the Pacific Ocean, a very short distance downhill.