After smoldering for more than two and a half years near the Japanese coast, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is finally set to take its first step towards decommission: removing Reactor 4’s spent fuel rods.
Shortly after a 9.0 earthquake shook the ocean floor near Sendai, Japan, a tsunami crashed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant resulting in a cascade of meltdowns throughout the plant’s reactors. Though at the time of the disaster the plants 4th reactor was undergoing scheduled maintenance and refueling, spent fuel rods were still wallowing in the reactor’s water filled core.
In an effort to remove these spent rods, the plant’s owner and operator (TEPCO) has finally come up with a scheme they believe should get the job done. In the coming weeks, workers will begin using a series of cranes to move spent fuel rods out of the reactor and into waiting containment vessels. Once filled with radioactive material, the vessels will be loaded onto trucks and taken to safe disposal facilities off-site.
Unfortunately, even after this process is complete the Fukushima reactor still faces a long journey before it’s fully decommissioned. Once the spent fuel rods are removed from reactor 4, active fuel rods will have to be removed from reactors 1, 2 and 3. To make this job even more difficult, each of the plant’s first three reactors experienced explosive meltdowns as a result of the accident, possibly scattering fuel rods throughout the reactors.
Experts expect the complete decommissioning of the facility to take 40 years. Even after the facility is forgotten, however, the remnants of this disaster will remain. We can only hope that future nuclear plants will integrate the lesson learned from Fukushima. Or better yet, maybe we can find an even better source of clean energy.
Images and Video TEPCO and IEEE Spectrum