Removal of fuel in pool at Fukushima's melted reactor begins

Remigio Civitarese
Апреля 15, 2019

The operator of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has begun removing fuel from a cooling pool at one of three reactors that melted down in the 2011 disaster, a milestone in what will be a decades-long process to decommission the facility.

The delicate operation represents the first time the Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) has pulled out fuel rods from inside a highly contaminated building containing the melted-down reactor, and comes four years behind schedule.

TEPCO says the removal at Unit 3 would take two years, followed by the two other reactors.

About an hour after the work began, the first fuel unit was safely stored inside the cask, TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said.

Molten nuclear fuel remains embedded deep inside the reactor, and its removal will be the most challenging of the entire clear-out.

Last year, Japan acknowledged for the first time that exposure to radiation at the site had caused the death of a worker. This is considered the most hard part of the massive clean-up operation and is not expected to begin until 2021. The fuel units in the pool located high up in reactor buildings are intact despite the disaster, but the pools are not enclosed, so removing the units to safer ground is crucial to avoid disaster in case of another major quake similar to the one that caused the 2011 tsunami.

In February, a remote-controlled robot with tongs removed pebbles of nuclear debris from the Unit 2 reactor but was unable to remove larger chunks, indicating a robot would need to be developed that can break the chunks into smaller pieces.

In an operation that is being carried out entirely underwater to prevent radiation leaks, workers are using the crane to take the fuel rods from their storage rack and place them in a protective cask that can hold seven units.

The next step in that painstaking process will be to remove some of the fuel as a sample, which is scheduled to happen by March 2020.

As the Fukushima plant was melting down, more than 300,000 people living nearby were evacuated, according to the Red Cross. The utility plans to repeat the procedure in the two other reactors that suffered meltdowns.

Earlier in the day Abe visited Okuma, one of two towns that host the nuclear plant, days after its evacuation order was partially lifted.

But regions affected by the disaster have struggled to attract back residents who fled in the wake of the meltdown, with many still concerned about radiation despite government assurances.

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