On Monday, workers at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power facility began what is their most difficult and dangerous task since the March 2011 earthquake and ensuing tsunami crippled the facility – that is, the removal of spent nuclear fuel rods from the molten down reactors. The removal of uranium and plutonium rods is risk-riddled, but embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said that it has begun to do what is an essential step in the complex’s decades-long decommissioning plan. This operation follows what has been a long list of high-profile gaffes, setbacks and glitches that have all but decimated the Japanese public’s belief that TEPCO will be able to handle such a situation, given its overall mishandling of what has been the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
“At 15:18 (0618 GMT), we started to pull up the first fuel assembly with a crane,” a TEPCO spokesman said on Monday. The removal process involves a huge crane with a remote-controlled grabber that is then lowered into the cooling pool and then hooked onto the fuel rod assemblies, placing them inside a fully immersed cask. The 91-ton cask will then be hauled from the pool to be loaded onto a trailer and taken to a different storage pool about 100 meters away.
Nuclear experts from all over the world have warned that any error or slip-up in this process could trigger a whole new nuclear crisis on its own. Even minor mishaps will create considerable delays in the already long and complicated decommissioning. “This is an important process that is an inevitable part of the decommissioning process, but it includes work that could pose a great risk,” the Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center, an independent energy think tank, said in a statement. “We expect TEPCO and the Nuclear Regulation Authority to work with vigilance, and we demand disclosure of information,” the statement added.
[via Yahoo News]