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It will take up to 40 years to clean up and fully decommission a nuclear plant that melted down after a huge tsunami hit it, the Japanese government said.

Nuclear crisis minister Goshi Hosono acknowledged that decommissioning three wrecked reactors plus spent fuel rods at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant was an “unprecedented project,” and the process was not “totally foreseeable.”

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“But we must do it even though we may face difficulties along the way,” Hosono said.

Trade Minister Yukio Edano said authorities would move through the process “firmly while ensuring safety at the plant.”

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He also vowed to pay attention to the concerns of tens of thousands of residents displaced by the crisis when the plant shut down during Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami, in the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl accident in 1986.

Under the plan, approved last week following consultation with experts and nuclear regulators, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) will start removing spent fuel rods within two years from their pools located on the top floor of each of their reactor buildings.

After they complete that task, TEPCO will start removing the melted fuel, most of which they think fell through the bottom of the core or even down to the bottom of the larger, beaker-shaped containment vessel, a process expected to wrap up 25 years from now. No one knows the location and condition of the molten fuel.

Completely decommissioning the plant would require five to 10 more years after the fuel debris removal, making the entire process up to 40 years, according to the roadmap.

The process still requires development of robots and technology that can get much of the work done remotely because of extremely nigh radiation levels inside the reactor buildings.

The decades-long process also would place an enormous financial burden on TEPCO. The ministers said that the total cost estimate is not immediately available, but they did say there will be no delay because of financial reasons.

Earlier Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the plant achieved “cold shutdown conditions,” meaning the plant had been brought to stability in the nine months since the accident.

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