Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has given the final go ahead for utility operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) to start removing fuel rods from nuclear reactor No 4 at the damaged Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant. This is the first step in the decommissioning of the plant which was crippled by a meltdown during the 2011 disasters and this process is expected to last for the next few decades.
Reactor No. 4 was offline during the meltdown, but the building housing it was damaged by a fire and hydrogen explosions. TEPCO has assured the NRA that the structure has been reinforced but the unenclosed cooling pool which holds the 1,533 pieces of cooling rods poses a big danger to the plant and its surrounding areas. They have already prepared a steel structure that has remote-controlled cranes capable of removing the contaminated rods which will then be placed in a protective cask. They will then be transferred to a nearby building that has a joint cooling pool and is considered less of a risk than the present pool that houses them.
Before giving the approval, NRA chairman Shunichi Tanaka cautioned TEPCO that this process is much different from just removing the normal fuel rods from a spent pool and so extra caution is needed during the operation. There is also the added risk of the debris that fell into the pool during the explosions two years ago. “They need to be handled extremely carefully and closely monitored. You should never rush or force them out, or they may break,” he emphasized. He also said he is more worried about this than the issue of the contaminated water that has apparently leaked into the nearby Pacific Ocean. It would be a “disaster” if any of the rods would be damaged or broken because it will release highly radioactive material.
The removal will begin by November of this year and TEPCO is targeting to empty the No. 4 pool by the end of 2014. The next few years will see them removing the rods from the other three reactors and then by 2020, they will begin digging into the melted cores. There is not much trust in TEPCO among the public and even with the government as the past few years have seen a series of mishaps during the extremely slow clean-up process.
[ via Fox News ]