A team of nuclear scientists in Japan are set to push forward with an experiment, deliberately recreating situations and circumstances when the Fukushima nuclear power plant suffered multiple reactor meltdowns in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The objective of this experiment is simple – to learn as much as possible about what caused the meltdowns and what exactly happened to the disaster stricken nuclear facility’s three reactors, with the hope of being able to prevent such a crisis in the future.
“Results of the experiment will help us better predict the effectiveness of measures to deal with a nuclear accident, such as an emergency injection of water into a reactor,” a spokesman of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) said. “There are no safety problems with the experiment itself.” The processes for the meltdown experiment are set to be conducted at Japan’s Nuclear Safety Research Reactor in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture. This reactor was built in 1975 for such research purposes. “We want to study exactly how meltdowns happen and apply what we will learn to help improve ways to deal with severe accidents in the future,” the JAEA spokesman added. The test, aiming to recreate the conditions at Fukushima, will use a 1.2-meter-long stainless steel capsule containing a 30-centimeter-long nuclear fuel rod to be placed at the core of the reactor. This is an attempt to recreate a condition similar to the Fukushima crisis when reactors lost water due to heat generated by the nuclear fuel. The JAEA will install cameras inside the capsule to record the whole process.
This information should ideally be provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the Fukushima nuclear facility, but as such it has been unable to collect information on the temperature and water level in the fuel rod pools of each reactor during the crisis. “The present calculation method has its limits when seeking precision,” said a senior TEPCO official. The three Fukushima reactors each contained around 25,000 and 35,000 nuclear fuel rods at the moment the March 2011 earthquake hit. The meltdowns are assumed to have happened in the time period of 4 to 77 hours after the quake.