Engineers prepare to remove radioactive fuel rods at Fukushima

3 years ago by in Japan

Japan’s nuclear engineers prepare for their most difficult and dangerous task at Fukushima: moving radioactive fuel rods that contain uranium and plutonium.

The nuclear power plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), will this month begin taking out fuel rods from a pool inside a reactor building at Fukushima, in a technically challenging operation, the international media reports.

Despite the fact that the whole process is difficult, it is also a necessary one, experts say. Over 1,500 nuclear fuels assemblies have to be taken out of the pool. They have been stored there when the violent tsunami hit the nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Removing the fuel is a regular process that is being done at any nuclear power plant, but “conditions are different from normal because of the disaster,” said company spokeswoman Mayumi Yoshida.

“It is crucial. It is a first big step towards decommissioning the reactors,” she said.

One of the protection measures taken at the plant includes erecting a hood over the building’s skeleton in a bid to prevent radioactive leaks.

A remotely-controlled grabber will sink into the pool and hook onto a fuel assembly, which it will pull up and place inside a fully immersed cask.

The 91-tonne cask containing 22 fuel assemblies and a lot of water will then be hauled from the pool and loaded onto a trailer. Then it will be taken to a different storage pool where the operation will be reversed.

Experts warn that any small mistake could lead to major complications. “Any trouble in this operation will considerably affect the timetable for the entire project,” Hiroshi Miyano, a nuclear systems expert, said. “This is an operation TEPCO cannot afford to bungle.”