THE operator of Japan's stricken Fukushima nuclear plant said yesterday it will craft a plan this summer to extract highly radioactive fuel from the damaged reactors a key step in decommissioning work expected to take decades.
Operator Tokyo Electric Power Co and Japan's government have struggled to clean up the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 undersea earthquake off Japan's northeastern coast sparked a massive tsunami that swamped cooling systems and triggered three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Radiation spread over a wide area and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate many of whom are unlikely to ever return.
TEPCO invited foreign journalists to the site for an update on clean-up efforts ahead of the sixth anniversary of the disaster. Shunji Uchida, top on-site engineer, said important data had been obtained from recent camera probes which detected radiation levels inside the No. 2 reactor at record highs.
"We will also continue further research on units No.1 and 3," Uchida said. "Based on that data we will decide on a basic policy this summer for how to remove the molten fuel."
Extracting the fuel, believed to have broken through pressure vessels to collect at the bottom of the reactors, is a key step toward decommissioning the plant, a process that could take 40 years.
Measures such as a special coating applied to the ground have kept levels of radioactive dust in the area at about the same level as in Tokyo's crowded Ginza shopping district, said TEPCO general manager Yuichi Okamura.
In the accident's immediate aftermath, heavy protective gear had to be worn within 20 kilometers of the plant. "Such heavy gear is only necessary now for those working at the reactor and turbine buildings and no longer away from them," Okamura added.
TEPCO also showed part of an underground ice wall, a device to be built around the plant's four reactors to freeze the soil about 30 meters into the ground. TEPCO hopes it will block underground water from nearby mountains from flowing into the complex and potentially contaminating the Pacific Ocean.
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