Melted fuel heap inside Fukushima reactor

Steve Phelps
July 24, 2017

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Friday conducted its second probe in the space of a week on one of three damaged reactors using an underwater robot.

Large amounts of the solidified lumps and deposit were spotted for the first time by the robot on the floor of the primary containment vessel underneath the core of Fukushima's No. 3 reactor, the Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said. When the utility sent a different robot into reactor 2 in January, it found black lumps sticking to the grating in the primary containment vessel but said they were hard to identify.

The plant was destroyed by a massive natural disaster and tsunami in March 2011. "Taking pictures of how debris scattered inside of the reactor was a big accomplishment". "We believe that the fuel melted and mixed with the metal directly underneath it".

Knowing the exact status of the radioactive fuel rods is essential to handling and removing them. "The recent investigation results are significant early signs of progress on the long road ahead".

With the third round, TEPCO finished the aquatic robot probe.

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After analysis, TEPCO will decide on a policy to retrieve the fuel debris. And it will confirm the procedure for the first reactor during the fiscal year ending March 2019, with fuel removal slated to begin in 2021. According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry, decommissioning the reactors will cost almost 8 trillion yen or US$72 billion.

The No. 3 reactor is one of the three reactors that experienced meltdowns in the nuclear disaster, which followed the March 2011 quake and tsunami. That search, however, failed to ascertain the condition of fuel debris.

It also discovered that the nuclear fuel debris has spread throughout the containment vessel.

Cameras mounted on the robot showed extensive damage caused by the core meltdown, with fuel debris mixed with broken reactor parts, suggesting the hard challenges ahead in the decades-long decommissioning of the destroyed plant.

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