Tue, Apr 16, 2019 - Page 1 News List

Removal of fuel in melted Japanese reactor’s pool starts

AP, TOKYO

The cooling pool at Unit 3 of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, is pictured yesterday before fuel units began being removed.

Photo: AP / Kyodo News

The operator of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant yesterday began removing fuel from a cooling pool at one of three reactors that melted down in the 2011 disaster, a milestone in what will be a decades-long process to decommission the facility.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said that workers started removing the first of 566 used and unused fuel units stored in the pool at Unit 3.

The fuel units in the pool located high up in reactor buildings are intact despite the disaster, but the pools are not enclosed, so removing the units to safer ground is crucial to avoid disaster in case of another major earthquake similar to the one that caused the 2011 tsunami.

TEPCO said that the removal at Unit 3 would take two years, followed by the two other reactors, where about 1,000 fuel units remain in the storage pools.

Removing fuel units from the cooling pools comes ahead of the real challenge of removing melted fuel from inside the reactors, but details of how that might be done are still largely unknown.

Removing the fuel in the cooling pools was delayed more than four years by mishaps, high radiation and radioactive debris from an explosion that occurred at the time of the reactor meltdowns, underscoring the difficulties that remain.

Workers are remotely operating a crane built underneath a jelly roll-shaped roof cover to raise the fuel from a storage rack in the pool and place it into a protective cask.

The whole process occurs underwater to prevent radiation leaks. Each cask is to be filled with seven fuel units, then lifted from the pool and lowered to a truck that will transport the cask to a safer cooling pool elsewhere at the plant.

The work is carried out remotely from a control room about 500m away because of still-high radiation levels inside the reactor building that houses the pool.

“I believe everything is going well so far,” plant chief Tomohiko Isogai told Japanese public broadcaster NHK. “We will watch the progress at the site as we put safety first. Our goal is not to rush the process, but to carefully proceed with the decommissioning work.”

About an hour after the work began yesterday, the first fuel unit was safely stored inside the cask, TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said.

Yesterday’s operation was to end after a fourth unit is placed inside the cask, he said.

No major damage was found on the fuel unit yesterday, Kimoto said.

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