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Tepco begins removing first fuel rods from Reactor 3 at crippled Fukushima nuclear plant

16 April 2019

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) started removing nuclear fuel on April 15 from the Fukushima Unit 3 storage pool, located at one of the reactor buildings damaged by hydrogen explosions in the 2011 disaster at the site. Three of six reactors suffered meltdowns after losing power following a powerful earthquake and tsunami at the power plant.

Nuclear fuel rods in pool - Image: Tepco
Nuclear fuel rods in pool - Image: Tepco

There are a total of 1,573 fuel rods, including unspent ones, inside the storage pools at Units 1, 2 & 3, and the large amount of spent fuel is a huge obstacle to decommissioning the crippled reactors as they will continue to generate heat and high levels of radiation for an extended period.

The start of the work has been delayed by more than four years due to a series of malfunctions of the devices necessary for the operation, some due to the exceptionally high levels of radiation in areas of the wrecked reactors.

Tepco said it plans to remove seven unspent fuel rods from the Unit 3 reactor’s pool, where a total of 566 spent and unspent fuel rods are stored, and transfer them to another storage pool on the premises later this month. The work is planned to be completed by the end of March 2021. These seven rods pose a relatively low risk, according to the Japan Times.

In 2014, Tepco completed fuel removal work from the pool linked to the No. 4 unit, which was offline for regular checks at the time of the accident and had all of its fuel stored in the pool. Unlike the Nos. 1 to 3 units, it did not suffer a meltdown.

The utility said it aims to start fuel removal work from pools at the Nos. 1-2 units in fiscal 2023, and has been assessing their surroundings. Of the six reactors at the plant, Units 1, 3 and 4 units suffered hydrogen explosions after the disaster.

The previous day, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe toured the Fukushima plant complex and nearby areas to check on reconstruction progress since the 2011 crisis.

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