Japan to remove nuclear fuel from Fukushima plant

Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's operator has gained permission to move forward with a plan that would transfer over 1,000 fuel rods to a new location on the site, potentially preventing massive radiation leaks in the future, reports The Wall Street Journal. Around 1,300 spent fuel rods and 200 new fuel rods have been sitting in a pool inside one of the plant's reactors, Unit 4, since it was damaged in March 2011. The four-meter-long rods (around 13 feet) will be pulled out of the plant one at a time by a crane that still needs to be constructed.

"Handling spent fuels involves huge risks."

"They must be handled one by one," says Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority, according to the Journal. Tanaka had warned that the process was potentially dangerous because debris from an explosion that had fallen into the pool could damage the rods. "Handling spent fuels involves huge risks. It would be a disaster if radioactive materials comes out of the metal rods during the work." Japan's NRA approved the plan this week, which was put forth by Fukushima's operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

The rods will be moved to a storage location on the power plant's site, one that should better prevent them from releasing large amounts of radiation into the environment were another disaster to strike, reports the Journal. The work is expected to begin in mid-November once construction on the necessary equipment is complete. "This will be significant milestone for TEPCO and the Japanese government and in the process of decommissioning the site," US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz says in a statement.

Moniz completed a trip to Fukushima on Friday, where he inspected the plant and discussed what progress still needs to be made there. Both Moniz and TEPCO president Naomi Hirose say that their organizations have been working together since the accident occurred, but Hirose notes that their relationship is now strengthening. "We are receiving valuable technological support from this engagement, allowing us to apply leading-edge thinking and experience to our decommissioning efforts," Hirose says in a statement.

TEPCO will head to Washington next week to discuss the cleanup

In particular, TEPCO and the Department of Energy have been working together to prevent groundwater contamination, to treat and dispose of waste, to remove fuel debris, and to treat contaminated water. The two groups will also meet in Washington next week for a commission focused on Fukushima cleanup, emergency response, and civil nuclear research, among other related matters. "As Japan continues to chart its sovereign path forward on the cleanup at the Fukushima site and works to determine the future of their energy economy," says Muniz, "The United States stands ready to continue assisting our partners in this daunting yet indispensable task."

The Verge
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