Removal of Fukushima reactor No 4 fuel rods – long, dangerous process

The pool at No. 4 was behind the secret worst-scenario mapped out by the government, which warned millions of people might have to flee from spewing radiation, including parts of the Tokyo area, which has a population of 35 million people. U.S. authorities have also repeatedly expressed worries about the spent-fuel pool at reactor No. 4.

“If we are asked whether things are completely safe, we cannot say that,”  ”If there is another major earthquake, we don’t know what may happen,

Japan removes two nuclear fuel rods from Fukushima plant Times Live Sapa | 18 July, 2012  A giant crane removed two rods packed with nuclear fuel from the Fukushima nuclear plant. This is the beginning of a delicate and long process to deal with a remaining risk of more radiation escaping from the disaster-struck plant.

All of the 1,535 rods next to reactor No. 4 at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi plant in northeastern Japan must eventually be removed from a spent-fuel pool to safer storage – an effort expected to take through the end of next year, according to the government.

The pool’s building was destroyed by explosions from the multiple
meltdowns that followed a massive earthquake and tsunami in March
2011.

Fears run deep about the massive radioactive material stored in the
damaged building. The pool is not protected by thick containment
vessels unlike the core fuel in the plant’s three other reactors. The
plant’s operator intends to remove the rods one-by-one to deal with
the risk of the pool stewing radiation into the surrounding
area…….
Japanese TV reports showed cranes removing the 4-meter (13-foot) rods.
The utility declined to comment, citing secrecy needs for handling
nuclear material. But it said in May that fuel rods would be removed
from the pool for the first time since the earthquake and tsunami.

In the days following the disasters, Fukushima Dai-ichi plunged into
meltdowns and was rocked by at least two hydrogen explosions after
backup generators were knocked out. About 150,000 people were
evacuated owing to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. A
20-kilometer (12-mile) zone around the plant remains a no-go zone.

The pool at No. 4 was behind the secret worst-scenario mapped out by the government, which warned millions of people might have to flee from spewing radiation, including parts of the Tokyo area, which has a population of 35 million people. U.S. authorities have also repeatedly expressed worries about the spent-fuel pool at reactor No. 4.

A year and a half after the disaster, the cooling system has been
fixed, and reinforcement built to prop up the pool. But fears remain.
TEPCO recently said the wall at the spent fuel pool building was
bulging, although the pool was not tilting.

Hiroshi Tasaka, a nuclear engineer and professor at Tama University,
who served as adviser to the prime minister after the disaster, said
the spent-fuel pool in reactor No. 4 posed a danger because the
building was not sufficiently secure to stop radiation escaping in the
case of strong aftershocks.

The two rods removed Wednesday are among the 204 rods that have not
been used to generate power and are not as prone to spewing radiation
as the 1,331 spent-fuel rods, also sitting in the pool.

Tasaka said the government target of removing all the rods by the end
of next year may prove too optimistic, and the effort may take longer
because of the many unknowns, the need to develop new technology and
the risk of aftershocks.

“If we are asked whether things are completely safe, we cannot say
that,” he said. “If there is another major earthquake, we don’t know
what may happen, although we hope for the best.”
http://www.timeslive.co.za/scitech/2012/07/18/japan-removes-two-nuclear-fuel-rods-from-fukushima-plant

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