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Japan to begin removal of fuel rods from Fukushima plant

Published time: November 07, 2013 14:46
Edited time: November 08, 2013 12:36
Crane units are installed over the spent fuel pool inside the No.4 reactor building at the tunami-crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, in this photo released by Kyodo November 6, 2013. (Reuters/Kyodo)

Crane units are installed over the spent fuel pool inside the No.4 reactor building at the tunami-crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, in this photo released by Kyodo November 6, 2013. (Reuters/Kyodo)

TEPCO is preparing to begin the dangerous task of extracting over 1,500 nuclear fuel rods from the Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. The risky operation is an essential step in to stabilize the site, in a process that could take decades.

Removing the spent fuel from a pool inside the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s fourth reactor presents significant risks given the radioactivity of the rods is 14,000 times more than what was released during the 1945 Hiroshima bombing. A slight mishap could release a huge amount of radiation into the atmosphere.

The removal of fuel is part of regular work at any nuclear power plant, but "conditions are different from normal because of the disaster," said company spokeswoman Mayumi Yoshida.

Photo by RT correspondent Aleksey Yaroshevsky.


Tokyo Electric Power’s plan for the extraction of the rods was approved by the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization Wednesday and will begin mid-November. Extraction was originally due to begin on Friday, but the Nuclear Energy Safety Organization called for more safety tests which set back the process.

The operation will entail lifting bundles of the 4-meter-long uranium and plutonium rods out of the storage pool where they were being kept when the earthquake-triggered tsunami struck Fukushima in 2011.

The rods will then be individually transferred into a water-filled cask and loaded onto a truck to be transported to a more secure site on the territory of the power station. TEPCO has assured that the 18-month process will go off without a hitch and that the necessary measures have been taken to ensure safety. 

So far, TEPCO’s management of the crisis situation has been criticized as haphazard and ill-planned. Nuclear fuel rods are seen in the spent fuel pool inside the No.4 reactor building. The storage pool has been reinforced with steel and concrete to withstand an earthquake of the same magnitude as the one in 2011. TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, November 7, 2013. (Reuters / Tomohiro Ohsumi / Pool)

The company has reinforced the storage pool where the rods are being held with steel and concrete and claim that it can withstand an earthquake of the same magnitude as the one in 2011.

In addition, a steel shell has been constructed to block radiation leaks while the rods are being moved.

Unknown territory

Doubts have been raised over TEPCO’s initiative. Scientists have urged caution as such an operation has never been undertaken.

“Handling spent fuels involves huge risks," said Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. "It would be a disaster if radioactive materials come out of the metal rods during the work.”

"This is the first practical milestone for the project," said Hiroshi Miyano, a nuclear systems expert and visiting professor at Hosei University in Tokyo.

"Any trouble in this operation will considerably affect the timetable for the entire project," he said to AFP. "This is an operation TEPCO cannot afford to bungle."

Christina Consolo, the founder and host of Nuked Radio, who has studied the Fukushima disaster in depth, told RT that she was not optimistic that the operation would be successful.

“The worst-case scenario is that there’s a nuclear chain reaction, a criticality in the pool during this procedure and it can’t be stopped,” she said.

Still, Consolo said Japan has no option but to proceed with the operation, as they can’t leave the fuel rods where they are, as “even a mild earthquake could cause the building to collapse.” 

Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste specialist from the organization Beyond Nuclear, believes it is “absurd” that TEPCO is in charge of this globally significant extraction operation, instead of delegating it to the “best and brightest nuclear engineers in the world.” 

“If something goes wrong this could be a global catastrophe that dwarfs what has happened in Fukushima Daiichi thus far,” Kamps told RT. “Tokyo Electric has shown its true colors time and time again, its incompetence, its dishonesty, so it’s very frightening that TEPCO is in charge of this.”

Arnold Gunderson, a nuclear power expert, explained to RT that what they will attempt to do at Fukushima has never been done before but it has to be done, because it is too dangerous to keep the nuclear fuel “way up in the air” given the seismic problems facing the crippled plant.

There is more radioactivity in that fuel pool than in all the bombs than in all the bombs that were fired in above ground testing. So we have the equivalent of 700 nuclear bombs worth of material in that fuel pool. These [the fuel rods] are not going to pull out easily and the fear is, is that they might snap and release the radiation that’s inside them,” he told RT.

If one of the rods were to be exposed to the air it would release radiation and heat up, potentially triggering a self-sustaining nuclear reaction. TEPCO has said that this is unlikely to occur.

TEPCO’s management of the crisis situation has been criticized as haphazard and ill-planned, with one Japanese minister likening it to a game of “whack-a-mole.” Currently the organization is battling to stop leaks of radioactive water from the tanks used to cool the reactors.

While the extraction of the fuel rods represents a significant challenge for TEPCO, the much more complex task of removing the misshapen cores of the stricken reactors awaits scientists.

Comments (30)

 

Adam Oscar Not-Charlie 21.11.2013 02:46

Its not Nuclear Power thats the problem its that its war hungry 60 year old Nuclear Technology.

and even back then they had a much better solution
LFTR Clean + a much cheaper Catalyst:

Thorium
Way more abundant and safe Then Uranium it can power the world and clean 99% of the nuclear waste we have accumulated in the process of giving us power

No offense to wind and solar, But if you do the math you will see its a nice addition to ,But not a solution to a very power hungry Race in a massive population Explosion on a very weak planet.

to survive we need to cover ground very fast
LFTR is the only viable solution

 

Julius 14.11.2013 18:38

Mark Roman 09.11.2013 19:00

Where on the planet can these people be found? So far, the count is ZERO.

  

Not true, the experts have been arranged from all over the world already. The problem is, if radiation is too high, nobody is considering human intervention, simply because it means suicide. As it stands, radiation is extremely high in and around Reactor 3.
What they constantly need to be doing is constructing new robots, each one for a custom task. The japanese are good at that, but only if their living conditions are in order, which is everything but the case around Fukushima Daiichi.

 

Jon K. 13.11.2013 00:56

Pedro 08.11.2013 11:30

I am totally dumb founded that some out there still are pro nuclear !
We are looking at the possibility of a long and short term wipe out of most of the people on this planet.
Who will survive ? Those that can leave when it becomes time to do so ........those that are behind it all.... those in control of you and I.
I have not met most of you reading this blog, I hope you have a good afterlife.

  


Yo u are a moron!!!!!

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