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Fukushima prepares for cold shutdown: Will it finally stabilize Unit 1?

At Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, nuclear reactor Unit 1 is being prepared for 'cold shutdown,' which requires flooding the reactor's containment structure with cold water to stop steam production.

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Preparing Unit 1

Before Unit 1 can be filled with water, though, workers need to remove radioactive air from the building in order to be able to get near it. TEPCO said Tuesday that eight workers would be ready to enter the heavily damaged building by Wednesday – the first time anyone would enter since the building was torn apart by a hydrogen explosion on March 12, the day after the plant was hit by an earthquake and tsunami.

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To make the building safe to enter, the company began installing ventilation equipment at Unit 1’s turbine building Tuesday, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported on its website. Six such devices will extract highly radioactive air from the reactor building through hoses, the company said.

To prevent the radioactive air from leaking into the turbine building, a housing is being built that will cover the doors and provide "negative pressure," so air flows into the building, but not out of it. Hoses will be run to the reactor building so ventilation can start Thursday, the newspaper reported.

American nuclear regulators wary of proposed steps

Still, US regulators are wary. Japanese authorities up to now have made only slight progress stabilizing the damaged nuclear plant, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission told the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

“While we have not seen or predicted any new significant challenges to safety at the site, we have only seen incremental improvements towards stabilizing the reactors and spent fuel pools,” said Gregory Jaczko, NRC chairman in his written remarks.

The NRC is reviewing the 104 nuclear plants currently operating in the US, to determine whether changes are needed to keep them safe. Their first report is expected next week.

New discovery: Seafloor radiation 100-1,000 times normal

Concern is also bubbling over radiation levels in the ocean near the plant – apparently due to an undiscovered leak from a damaged reactor. Ocean radiation readings taken Friday from the seabed near the plant were 100-1,000 times usual levels, TEPCO told the Mainichi Times.

In meetings Tuesday in London, Japan's Minister of Foreign Affairs Takeaki Matsumoto appeared to accept Britain's offer of a team of experts to help monitor sea radiation, the Mainichi Times reported.

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