The government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. decided Tuesday to delay again the start of removing spent nuclear fuel left near two of the three reactors which suffered a meltdown at the Fukushima complex.
In the road map for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi plant, revised for the fourth time since it was first crafted in December 2011, highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel will be extracted from the Nos. 1 and 2 units' cooling pools starting in fiscal 2023 instead of fiscal 2020.
It is the third time that the schedule for spent fuel removal has been pushed back at the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors, with the previous postponement taking place in June 2015. The government said new technical issues and the need to take safety precautions led to the latest schedule change.
The cleanup process is to be completed in around 30 to 40 years.
For the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima plant, the schedule to remove spent nuclear fuel during fiscal 2018 is unchanged after having already been pushed back earlier this year.
In the decommissioning process, taking out fuel rod assemblies from the spent fuel pools inside reactor buildings is one of the key steps before extracting melted fuel debris from the Nos. 1 to 3 reactors, all of which suffered core meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
The schedule for extraction of the melted fuel debris at the reactors was also revised, with the determination of a specific approach to remove the debris to be made in fiscal 2019, rather than in the originally planned first half of fiscal 2018.
Despite the delay in finalizing specific methods, the road map kept the start of the debris extraction, the most challenging part of the decommissioning process, at 2021.
A method currently considered feasible by the government is debris removal from the side of the three crippled reactors by partially filling them with water.
The road map newly sets the goal of cutting the amount of underground water at the plant to address contaminated water buildup at the site. Underground water, which gets mixed with accumulated radioactive water generated in the process of cooling the damaged reactors -- is to be cut to around 150 tons per day in 2020 from the current 200 tons.
It did not mention a specific schedule for disposal of processed water that still contains radioactive tritium.
The road map was first crafted in December 2011 in the wake of the 2011 disaster which triggered at the Fukushima plant the world's worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Attempts have been made to confirm internal conditions of the damaged reactors using robots. A survey robot captured images of what is likely to be melted nuclear fuel at the bottom of the No. 3 reactor for the first time in July this year.
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