Sixteen months after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, plant operators have begun removing nuclear fuel rods from a storage pool at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
For safety issues, the media has been asked to refrain from filming the dangerous and extremely delicate operations. Aerial cranes have been seen lifting two of the 1,535 fuel units from one of the reactor buildings. This procedure is the first stage of a program to remove used and unused fuel from the plant to reduce the risk of additional radiation leakage. The process could take years to complete, and the large amount of fuel in the structure could potentially cause a far bigger disaster if the proper precautions are not taken.
According to Hiroaki Koide of Kyoto University’s Department of Reactor Safety Management, “The amount of caesium-137 in the fuel in the pools is equivalent to 5,000 times the amount that was spread by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.” The amount released in the Fukushima disaster last year was 168 times the amount of Hiroshima, so in the event that the reactor is damaged further, the outcome would be much more devastating.
Plant manager TEPCO has said the repair work done so far has stabilized the structure, but Koide is still skeptical that it is much safer given the high levels of radiation looming within it.
So far, the 204 units to be removed pose little danger due to low levels of radiation. However, the remaining 1,331 units will not be moved until a much larger crane is installed. These operations are expected to commence in 2013, according to TEPCO.