The national government and TEPCO announced the revised "roadmap" (draft) for the decommissioning of Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on June 10, 2013, in which the removal of corium (fuel debris) is to be expedited by one and a half year ahead of the original schedule.
And no one says/asks/wonders (except for people like "Happy" and Ryuichi Kino),
Mainichi doesn't ask that kind of fundamental question either. Instead, it sort of speculates, by quoting someone else and not as the paper's opinion or analysis. Sort of cross between the tabloid newspaper and the government PR department.
What are the speculations? That it is a ploy to secure the win for the LDP in the coming Upper House election in July, and that it is to prompt residents in the former evacuation zones around the plant to return sooner.
From Mainichi Shinbun (6/10/2013):
Fukushima I Nuke Plant: Locations of fuel debris unknown, decommissioning schedule unchanged
"Pie in the sky", may be just the ploy for the Upper House election
The revised roadmap was announced on June, in which the removal of fuel debris inside the reactors at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant would be expedited by the maximum one and a half year. The decommissioning was still scheduled to end sometime "between 30 and 40 years" from now. The reality is that we don't even know where the fuel debris is. Unless there is a new technology development, the "roadmap" could be nothing but "pie in the sky".
There are [or rather, was] total 1496 fuel assemblies inside the reactors in Reactors 1 through 3, and total 3106 fuel assemblies in the Spent Fuel Pools in Reactors 1 through 4. The fuel inside the reactors is called "debris" (corium), which is considered to be a mass of fuel mixed with metals. A fuel assembly weighs about 300 kilograms. It would require sophisticated technology to cut and collect the [total] 450 tonnes of radioactive fuel debris by remote control.
In order to expedite the removal, the key would be the success of "water entombment" of the reactors. It is a technique to shield radiation, but there are holes in the reactors at Fukushima I Nuke Plant which must be filled with water. Identifying and repairing the holes would be a problem.
The national government and TEPCO will examine the decommissioning technology, and decide by the end of the next fiscal year whether it is possible to expedite the removal of fuel debris.
The official in charge at the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry indicated the possibility that the plan may be delayed, during the press conference on June 10, saying "Expediting the debris removal depends on the R&D. It could be pushed further back." The revision of the roadmap has been spear-headed by Minister of Economy Toshimitsu Motegi, and some see this push for expediting the debris removal as "PR for the Upper House Election to show the positive result of the regime change".
Professor Satoru Tanaka of Tokyo University, who is knowledgeable about decommissioning, says, "I would like to commend the government for expediting the decommissioning schedule in order to encourage early return of the residents. However, there are many technologies to be developed, and the government need to continue the support for new technology development."
Dr. Satoru Tanaka was the 33rd chairman of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan (aka "nuclear village").