As early as next Friday (November 8), the scariest decommissioning work at the ruined nuclear power complex may begin. Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the largest electrical utility in Japan, runs the facility. It crashed after the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The 9.0-scale quake–the most powerful ever known to hit Japan–began in the Pacific, about 45 miles east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku. It triggered automatic shutdowns at the six-unit power plant. However, the record tsunami that followed swamped emergency generators, caused three huge explosions, and gravely imperiled the reactors. Since then, radiation has leaked into air, soil, ground, and surface water. The widest spread so far involves the northern Pacific Ocean.
In this first attempt at cleaning up the destroyed reactors, TEPCO aims to relocate over 1,300 highly radioactive spent and 200 unused fuel rods from an open upper-story pool at the Unit 4 reactor complex. The fuel needs to be secured at a safer, enclosed multi-unit storage area on ground level. For security reasons, the operator will not announce the actual date on which the risky work will begin.
Four hundred tons of radioactive material await relocation. These have 14,000 times the radiation potential of the bomb released by the U.S. at Hiroshima in 1945. JapanRealTime reports that the planned removal should “secure the fuel and help prevent any new massive radiation release at the facility.” That’s the theory the whole operation depends on. Critics are by no means certain it will work.
“If improperly handled or destabilized by another major earthquake at the site, the fuel could discharge large amounts of radiation into the environment,” said a Tuesday blog in the Wall Street Journal.
Japanese regulators gave the green light to TEPCO’s plans for Unit 4 on Wednesday. The company prepared to begin by removing the safer unused fuel rods and then move on to the spent fuel. TEPCO expects the Unit 4 pool to be empty by end of next year. It would then move fuel from the other three other wrecked reactors to final containment. Work on the molten cores is expected to begin around 2020. The entire Fukushima Daiichi cleanup will probably take three or four decades.
Continue reading at U.S. To Aid TEPCO In Moving Hot Fukushima Fuel