Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of Fukushima nuclear plant is preparing to remove a record amount of 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel from a damaged reactor building, a dangerous operation that has never been attempted before on this scale.
More than 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies packed tightly together and containing radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima 68 years ago need to be removed from a building that is vulnerable to collapse, should another large earthquake hit the area, the media write.
TEPCO is already struggling to stop radioactive water from leaking into the sea. “They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods”, said Arnie Gundersen, a veteran U.S. nuclear engineer and director of Fairewinds Energy Education, who used to build fuel assemblies.
The operation, beginning this November at the plant’s Reactor No. 4, is a dangerous one and includes the possibility of a large release of radiation if a fuel assembly breaks, gets stuck or gets too close to an adjacent bundle, said Gundersen and other nuclear experts.
That could lead to a worse disaster than the March 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant, the world’s most serious since Chernobyl in 1986.
“Full release from the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date”, independent consultants Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt wrote recently in their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013.