Robot lifts bits of melted fuel at Japan's Fukushima plant

The clean-up is an especially difficult operation
The clean-up is an especially difficult operation

A robot arm has successfully picked up pebble-sized pieces of radioactive fuel at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant in a complex operation seen as key to clean-up efforts after the 2011 meltdown, officials said Thursday.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) on Wednesday sent down a remote-controlled probe to the melted fuel at the bottom of the plant's reactor 2, one of three that melted down after a and tsunami in March 2011.

It caught five small pieces of the fuel debris and lifted them up some five centimetres (two inches).

"We were able to confirm that the fuel debris can be moved," said Yuka Matsubara, a spokeswoman.

"We accomplished the objective of this test," she told AFP, adding that the company plans to actually remove some fuel as a sample by March next year.

Robots have already peered inside the reactor to allow experts to assess the melted fuel visually, but Wednesday's test was the first attempt to work out how fragile the highly radioactive material is.

Removing the melted is considered the most difficult part of the massive clean-up operation in the wake of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

It is not expected to begin until 2021, and TEPCO has other issues to resolve including how to dispose of large quantities of contaminated water stored in containers at the plant site.

The March 2011 tsunami that caused the meltdown was triggered by a massive undersea quake and killed around 18,000 people.

Tens of thousands were forced to evacuate their homes because of the threat of radiation.

Authorities have been working to rebuild the region, about 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Tokyo, although areas near the crippled plant remain uninhabitable because of radiation dangers.

Explore further

Robot probes radioactive fuel at Japan's Fukushima plant

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Robot lifts bits of melted fuel at Japan's Fukushima plant (2019, February 14) retrieved 24 August 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Feb 16, 2019
"...the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl..."
Fukushima: zero deaths from radiation exposure. Chernobyl is now a tourist zone.
Fearmongers and sensationalist mass media, by spreading panic among civilians, have induced much more deaths(suicides, abortions, heart-attacks), and by favoring the combo(solar/wind backed up by coal/oil/gas/fracking to compensate intermittencies) have caused millions of deaths yearly due to air pollution.

'We're getting less radiation here than on the plane'- Feb 14, 2019
"In flight to Kiev his dosimeter read 1.8 microsieverts per hour. 'It's currently 0.6.' With [Chernobyl] visible in the background, I'm incredulous. But, Jim explains, we live on a radioactive planet - natural radioactivity is all around us."

Feb 16, 2019
Give it up, Willie.

Your technology means death.

Feb 17, 2019
Give it up, gskam.
Your phony technology(sunshine&breeze(bird-choppers/landscape-destroyers)) means much more deaths by providing "greenwashing" / 'decorative facade' for coal/oil/gas/fracking in order to displace carbon-free nuclear energy.

"Major multinational oil&gas companies love to partner with wind & solar. They provide roughly 60-80% of product sold while the unreliables pitch in for their 20-40% whenever weather cooperates."

Feb 17, 2019
What remains to be seen is how much is in little things that can be picked up and big things that can't. Experience suggests the majority is the latter. And that's going to be a lot harder to handle.

Letting bean-counters site the emergency equipment based on cost was a fatal error. Especially in Japan. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, as the Japanese government who allowed this idiocy are now learning.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more