Removal of Fukushima nuclear fuel delayed by up to five years
07 January 2020
The Japanese government has announced that plans to remove spent nuclear fuel from two reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have been delayed by up to five years. The announcement on December 27 has increased doubts of whether the government is able to achieve its target of dismantling the complex within the next 30 to 40 years.
Inside reactor No.3 at Fukushima - Image: Nuclear Regulation Authority
The process to remove spent fuel from reactors No.1 and No.2, which is estimated to take two years to achieve, was scheduled to begin in 2023. The latest decommissioning plan says that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), will not begin the process in reactor No.1 until 2027 or 2028. Work in reactor No. 2 is now expected to start between 2024 and 2026.
The government says the delay is to allow for extra safety precautions to be made, primarily the construction of an enclosure around reactor No.1 which will prevent the spread of radioactive dust. This is the fourth time that plans for the removal of Fukushima’s fuel rods have been delayed. If no more delays are announced, the plan is to have all 4,741 spent fuel rods removed from Fukushima’s six reactors by 2031.
TEPCO has already started the process of removing reactor No.3’s fuel rods, while the No.4 unit’s have already been removed due to the reactor being offline for maintenance at the time of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami which struck the east coast of Japan in 2011. The disaster resulted in reactors No.1, 2 and 3 experiencing core meltdowns.
As part of its revised plan, the Japanese government also said it would aim to reduce the pace at which water is being contaminated at the plant. In September 2019, Japan’s Energy Minister said storage facilities for radioactive water would be full by 2022. As a result, he said, future contaminated water might have to be dumped in the Pacific Ocean. At present, around 170 tons of water is used to cool the melted cores. The aim is to lower this to 100 tons per day by 2025.
The extent of the damage at reactor No.3 was recently revealed in a video released on December 26 by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). The video, filmed on December 12, shows an on-site investigation of the No.3 reactor’s building which was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion. Radiation levels in the building are extremely high compared with reactors No.1 and 2, but the source of the radiation has yet to be determined. The investigation by the NRA was conducted in order to identify the unknown source and determine the causes of the explosion.
The footage shows severe damage to the building where radiation levels have been measured at 150 millisieverts (mSv) per hour in some areas. The NRA aims to publish its findings in a report by the end of 2020.
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