Monday, November 18, 2013

World Holds Its Breath as TEPCO Starts Fuel Rod Removal at Fukushima Unit 4

TEPCO has started to remove the first of some 1,500 fuel rod assemblies at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant. It will take a week to ten days to remove the first 22 rods from their current location to a more stable cooling pool.

The assemblies are 13 foot long tubes that contain pellets of uranium. There are serious fears that some of the rods may have been damaged during the earthquake or tsunami, or during the explosions that rocked unit 4 in the days following those events.

The rods will have to be moved in water filled containers and is critical as exposing them to air causes the rods to overheat. This would result in an unstoppable nuclear chain reaction. Contamination in such an event would be widespread, spreading around the globe.

TEPCO has recently admitted that one of the assemblies containing between 50 and 70 rods of highly radioactive spent fuel was damaged in 1982. It was bent out of shape during a transfer. They have said that this rack won’t be lifted in this phase of the process.

Decomissioning of the plant is set to take decades, and experts from around the world have expressed grave doubts that TEPCO is up to the job. The Japanese has so far rejected offers of help from the international community.