As utility operator Tokyo Electric Power Co starts preparation for the delicate task of removing spent fuel rods from the No. 4 reactor at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, reports have come out saying that three of the assemblies were already damaged even before the 2011 meltdown at the plant. This poses an additional risk in an already hazardous operation since the damaged assemblies cannot be removed from the reactor.
An information sheet submitted by TEPCO in August said that one of the 4.5 meter high racks of assemblies was already damaged back in 1982. The assembly contains around 50-70 highly irradiated rods of used fuel and is already bent out of shape due to mishandling during one of the transfers. Two assemblies were also reported to be damaged in a TEPCO statement back in April 2010, where they found them to have a wire trapped in them and with some of the rods already having cracks and leaking gases that have a low-level of radiation in them.
The operator’s spokeswoman Mayumi Yoshida said that those three cannot be transferred using the cask that is set to remove more than 1,500 assemblies from the nuclear reactor, transferring it to a safer storage cooling pool in another nearby building. Each of the assemblies that will be removed reportedly has radiation that is 10 times stronger than that of the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima during World War II. They need to be removed from the unstable facility housing reactor No. 4, even though that particular reactor was not one of the three that suffered a meltdown in 2011. Because it is located 18 meters above ground level, it will prove to be hazardous in the event of another earthquake.
[ via Reuters ]