The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was shut down in March, after earthquake and tsunami damage led to meltdowns, radiation leaks, and evacuations. But an expert panel, convened by Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission, says that fully decommissioning the plant will take at least 30 years.

Closing Fukushima Daiichi doesn't just mean shutting down damaged reactors. That part of the process is more or less complete. But the containment vessels now need to be repaired, which alone could take a decade. Only after they're fixed can workers begin removing fuel rods, a process that took 10 years at Three Mile Island and could be more complicated at Fukushima. They'll also need to decontaminate the area around the plant.

Decommissioning the plant will be costly, too. Repairing the vessels and removing the fuel will cost the equivalent of $19 billion, according to a report by a major Japanese newspaper.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.