Nuclear fuel removed from crippled Japan plant

The withdrawal of nuclear fuel is a delicate operation for the Tokyo Electric Power Co
The withdrawal of nuclear fuel is a delicate operation for the Tokyo Electric Power Co

The operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima power plant on Monday began removing atomic fuel from inside a building housing one of the reactors that melted down in 2011.

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.

Due to high radiation levels, technicians used remote-controlled equipment to haul fuel from a "storage pool" inside the building.

Operations were briefly suspended early Monday afternoon after a problem with the equipment removing the fuel, but resumed shortly afterwards.

"We finally started this work. We will spend two years removing 566 units of fuel from reactor three," said Takahiro Kimoto, a TEPCO spokesman.

TEPCO removed four units as planned on Monday, with workers continuing to remove debris that have fallen inside the pool and other areas, Kimoto told reporters.

"Factors such as removal of debris and various troubles have caused delays, which we realise have caused significant worries to people in the region and others," Kimoto said.

"Putting safety as our priority, we will carefully continue this work," he promised.

2011 Fukushima nuclear accident
Graphic on the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

Engineers have had to contend with clearing earthquake debris inside the building and an array of other technical challenges, said TEPCO spokeswoman Yuka Matsubara.

"We had to proceed carefully (to remove debris), and we needed to take measures as dust would waft up and increase radiation readings," she told AFP.

TEPCO engineers will not yet attempt to extract molten nuclear fuel that remains deep inside the mangled reactor. This is considered the most difficult part of the massive clean-up operation and is not expected to begin until 2021.

'Reconstruction plan'

In February, TEPCO sent a remote-controlled probe to pick up pebble-sized pieces of the melted fuel in a bid to find out whether the material could be moved.

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.

The company also faces other difficult challenges, including working out how to dispose of large quantities of contaminated water stored in containers at the plant site.

In the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986, reactors one, two and three at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant melted down after a deadly earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011.

The accident was the worst since Chernobyl in 1986
The accident was the worst since Chernobyl in 1986

The tsunami killed around 18,000 people and caused widespread devastation, and the nuclear meltdown forced the evacuation of areas near the plant.

Reactors four through six were offline at the time of the disaster for inspections and did not suffer meltdowns, though reactor four was damaged by an explosion in the days after the tsunami.

In December 2014, TEPCO finished removing all 1,535 units of nuclear fuel kept inside the storage pool at reactor four.

The company aims to conduct the same operations for the buildings for reactor one and two by 2023 as part of a four-decade plan to dismantle the entire Fukushima plant.

Japan's government has pushed a reconstruction plan for the surrounding region that includes decontaminating affected areas and removing topsoil.

This month, an evacuation order was lifted for part of Okuma, one of two towns where the nuclear plant is located.

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.

Explore further

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

© 2019 AFP

Citation: Nuclear fuel removed from crippled Japan plant (2019, April 15) retrieved 21 August 2019 from
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Apr 15, 2019
"...the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986..."
Zero deaths from radiation exposure.
"Even the worst nuclear accidents result in far fewer deaths than the normal operation of fossil fuel power plants."
"The fossil fuel industry in ONE DAY does vastly, vastly more damage to the planet and to human life than the entire civilian nuclear industry has done in sixty years."
By providing "greenwashing" (decorative facade) for coal/oil/gas in order to displace carbon-free nuclear energy,
intermittent renewables are as deadly and dirty as fossil fuels.
death/TWh: coal 161.00, oil 36.00, solar 0.44, wind 0.15, hydro 0.10, nuclear 0.04

Apr 15, 2019
"...decontaminating affected areas and removing topsoil..."
Meanwhile Volcanoes in Japan, in a single eruption can release as much radioactive material as all nuclear weapons, as well polonium-210 worse than cesium-137 and protactinium-231 equivalent to plutonium-239 in terms of toxicity, and it is not mentioned by the mainstream mass media(in the pocket of the fossil fuels vested interests).

"...concerned about radiation..."
People take more radiation during a commercial flight than visiting Chernobyl or Fukushima.
"EXTRA #60Mins | While on a flight from Japan to London, while filming his report on nuclear power, @TomSteinfort recorded radiation levels 50 times higher than our capital cities. In an extended interview, he questions Professor Gerry Thomas on the danger of these levels."

Apr 15, 2019
It is the Nuclear regulators setting the exposure levels so insanely low that have caused much fear and suffering to the residents of Fukushima and Chernobyl, as well as ensuring that new projects are so expensive to build and repair that we will be paying huge costs per kilowatt for our electricity. The Mafia run construction and demolition corporations are just loving how they can make so much money so easily and no doubt pay some generous kickbacks to their government cohorts.

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