MOSCOW, November 5 (RIA Novosti) — The firm operating the incapacitated Fukushima nuclear power plant today announced its success in removing all the spent uranium fuel from one of the wrecked plant’s reactor buildings, completing one part of the second phase of the plant’s decades-long decommissioning process.
“The removal of the spent fuel assemblies was completed,” reads today’s statement by Tepco on its webpage, continuing that “the removal operation will continue to be performed in a safe and measured manner until the last fuel assembly has been removed and transferred to the common pool.”
In a year-long process, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. has removed 1,331 rods of spent uranium weighing 400 tons, which were housed in a damaged storage pool of water in reactor No. 4 at the plant. The rods are now to be checked for signs of damage, as the operation to clear the reactor continues with the removal of 202 non-irradiated uranium fuel rods, which are less dangerous.
Of Fukushima’s six reactors, four require the removal of uranium in order to prevent further contamination. Reactors No. 1-3 at Fukushima went into partial meltdown as a consequence of the tsunami, which damaged their cooling systems. No. 4 suffered a hydrogen explosion, while reactors No. 5 and 6 were less badly affected by the tsunami and their fuel remains stored and in stable condition.
Kyodo News last week reported that Tepco has delayed work on removing the fuel from the other three reactors, which was due to start in 2017. Radiation levels are too high for humans to enter them, and the technology to perform the unprecedented cleanup operation alone is not developed enough.
In June, 2013 Reuters reported that a $6 million robot sent to survey the reactors got lost during its inspection, and is still missing. Takuya Hattori, president of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum and a 36-year Tepco veteran told Reuters: "It's like going to war with bamboo sticks." The whole decommissioning process is set to take up to 40 years.
The latest breakthrough represents good news for the company, which has been heavily criticized for its handling of the disaster, including a failure to deal with vast leaks of radioactive water from the plant. Tepco released the news on the same day as its positive quarterly progress report, and saw its share price rise 8.40 percent.