Japan aims to have the Fukushima plant nuclear reactors in 'cold shutdown' by the end of the year, a top government official says.
Nuclear Disaster Minister Goshi Hosono made the announcement at the annual member state gathering of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, which is slightly ahead of schedule.
"We will move up the existing target period and endeavour to achieve this cold shutdown by the end of this year,” he said.
Radiation leaks from the plant, which was crippled by the March earthquake and tsunami, forced the evacuation of 80,000 people.
Cold shutdown, where the spread of radiation from reactors has been suppressed, is necessary for any evacuees to return to the restricted zone around the plant.
The government and the Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) utility that operated the plant had earlier said they planned to achieve cold shutdown by January.
IAEA head Yukiya Amano had said last week that the reactors at Fukushima were "essentially stable" six months after the world's worst nuclear disaster in a quarter of a century.
Fuel rods in three reactors at the complex started melting down when power and cooling functions failed after it was hit by the earthquake and tsunami.
Tepco this month edged a step closer to its goal of bringing the reactors to a state of cold shutdown as the temperature at the second of three damaged units fell below boiling point.
Cold shutdown occurs when water used to cool nuclear fuel rods remains below 100 degrees Celsius, preventing the fuel from reheating.