Japan Nuke Eyes Fuel Rod Removal

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 @ 01:03 PM gHale

Work continues on Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) plans to remove fuel rods from a cooling pool at the center of concerns from the earthquake and tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant suffered meltdowns at three reactors as a result of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Hydrogen explosions at another of the plant’s reactors, Unit 4, damaged a reactor building and a cooling pool, raising concerns in Japan and other countries, including the United States.

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Despite repeated reassurances by TEPCO and government officials about the safety of the Unit 4 building following structural reinforcement, the cooling pool continues to cause uneasiness among the public.

Experts have said TEPCO should remove the fuel inside the pool as quickly as possible since it is an open area and sits on the highest floor of the building. A power loss similar to the one during the 2011 disaster could cause the fuel inside the pool to dry up, overheat and possibly cause even worse radiation leaks, they said.

The plant’s manager, Takeshi Takahashi, said during a tour of the plant the removal of the fuel rods will begin in November and take a year to complete. It will be the first major step in a decades-long cleanup of the plant.

“We are steadily making progress, one step at a time,” Takahashi said.

Even though the Unit 4 reactor building has performed well in tests of its quake resistance, it would be best to move fuel from the pool to a safer storage area, he said.

TEPCO also plans to remove melted fuel from the wrecked reactors within 10 years, but full decommissioning of the plant should take decades.

TEPCO officials said Wednesday they will move all of the fuel rods to a joint cooling pool inside a nearby lower building, considered a safer storage option. To make room for the incoming fuel, thousands of fuel rods will move from the joint pool for storage in even safer dry casks.

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