A new roof for Fukushima Daiichi unit 4, a new nuclear research center for Fukushima Prefecture and an investigation into shoddy decontamination work in areas surrounding the plant highlighted the recent news from Japan.

Developments related to the Tokyo Electric Power Co. nuclear plant severely damaged following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami include:

Construction Progressing on Unit 4 Cover

Fukushima Daiichi unit 4 roof installation. Source: TEPCOAs of Tuesday, TEPCO reported it had installed two of the four columns that will support the first level of a cover for unit 4. The roofless existing building, heavily damaged by a hydrogen explosion, has already been reinforced, and removing the 1,535 assemblies stored within its spent fuel pool is a high priority at the plant. Once completed later this year, the cover structure will enable fuel removal. Plans call for that work to begin in November and to be complete in 2014.

Government Funds Fukushima Research Center

On Wednesday, Japan's government set aside $900 million to build a nuclear research center in Fukushima Prefecture. The Mainichi Daily News reported that the government, through the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, is considering a partnership with the International Atomic Energy Agency and envisions an international hub of radiation-related research. The facility will analyze radioactive materials from Fukushima, support the development of disaster-response robots, research radioactive waste processing and study reactor decommissioning practices and other subjects.

Newspaper Alleges Shoddy Cleanup Work

On Jan. 4, the Asahi Shimbun published an investigation that documented haphazard cleanup practices in the countryside surrounding the plant, prompting a review this week by Japan's Environment Ministry. The newspaper reported that contractors released water used to hose down contaminated buildings into the environment untreated, and that workers had dumped potentially contaminated soil and vegetation into rivers and wooded areas. Four construction companies were hired to undertake the bulk of the massive $7.4 billion cleanup effort, which involves removing contaminated soil, debris, tree limbs and other vegetation from cities in evacuation areas.