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Robot detects locations of radioactive leaks at crippled Fukushima nuclear plant

Published time: November 14, 2013 18:15
This handout picture taken by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on November 13, 2013 shows US nuclear expert Lake Barrett (R) inspecting the unit four reactor building of the crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture. (AFP Photo/TEPCO)

This handout picture taken by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on November 13, 2013 shows US nuclear expert Lake Barrett (R) inspecting the unit four reactor building of the crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture. (AFP Photo/TEPCO)

For the first time, a remote-controlled robot has detected the exact spot of radioactive water leaks from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant’s Reactor 1, local media reported.

The robot was sent close to the lower part of the Reactor 1 containment vessel at the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi on Wednesday. Its camera captured images of radioactive water leaking from two holes of the vessel into the building housing the reactor, NHK television reported

The lower section of the vessel contains water that cools the molten nuclear fuel rods, damaged after the March 2011 earthquake that triggered a tsunami which hit the Fukushima nuclear facility.

The radiation levels in the inspected area were reported at 0.9 to 1.8 sieverts an hour, while a typical release of radiation is generally accepted to be 1 millisievert a year.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the nuclear plant’s operator responsible for the cleanup, has to keep the melted uranium fuel rods of the three damaged reactors cool for them to be relatively stable. Thus, the operator is storing huge amounts of radioactive water at Fukushima nuclear facility.

However, TEPCO engineers said that they cannot estimate the amount of water that leaked through the holes, NHK reported. They also admitted that Reactors 2 and 3 of the Fukushima Daiichi have similar problems.

TEPCO is now planning to use robots to locate other leaks which have been causing concern, as it is important not only in solving water contamination problems but also in carrying out decommissioning of the reactors.

This handout picture taken by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) on November 13, 2013 shows US nuclear expert Lake Barrett and TEPCO workers inspecting the spent fuel pool at the unit four reactor building of the crippled TEPCO's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant at Okuma town in Fukushima prefecture. (AFP Photo/TEPCO)

Earlier in November, TEPCO announced that by the end of the month the company will start extracting more than 1,500 fuel rods from the No 4 reactor of the crippled nuclear plant, which contains 10 times more Cesium-137 than Chernobyl did.

The rods are expected to be placed in the outdoor pool at the station by the end of next year.

However, scientists have urged caution as such an operation has never been undertaken, while a mishap could release a huge amount of radiation into the atmosphere or cause an explosion many times worse than the original disaster.

“If something goes wrong this could be a global catastrophe that dwarfs what has happened in Fukushima Daiichi thus far,” Kevin Kamps, a nuclear waste specialist from the organization Beyond Nuclear told RT.

According to experts, complete elimination of the consequences of the nuclear catastrophe will take from 30 to 40 years.

The crippled reactors of the nuclear facility are located near the coast of the Pacific Ocean. After the tsunami that hit Fukushima, the cores of the three reactors melted and burnt through the concrete basement of the reactor zone. The water used to cool them has been leaking into the soil and contaminating the ground water on the premises of the nuclear facility. This water eventually started seeping into the Pacific. According to estimations from Japan’s Ministry of Industry, around 300 tons of contaminated groundwater has leaked into the ocean daily since the nuclear disaster occurred in 2011.