The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday they may be able to start removing the melted fuel inside the crippled nuclear reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 complex around 18 months earlier than initially planned, although this action would still be years away.
The process would reportedly begin with the removal of fuel assemblies from the outside-reactor spent-fuel pools of units 1 to 4, the latter of which was widely reported to have been exposed to the atmosphere when the building housing the reactor was blown up in a hydrogen explosion involving an adjacent reactor that suffered a meltdown.
According to a revised plan to decommission four reactors at the six-reactor complex, the extremely challenging task of removing melted fuel from reactors 1, 2, and 3, which suffered the core meltdowns, and from the exposed spent-fuel pool of unit 4 could start within the first half of fiscal 2020 if the efficiency of preparation work is improved.
But the government and Tepco still believe it will take 30 to 40 years to complete the decommissioning process from the December 2011 point at which the plant was declared to have achieved a stable state of cold shutdown.
The revised plan is expected to be compiled later this month after the opinions of local governments and experts are solicited, a government official said.
Tepco continues to struggle to contain the catastrophe at the Fukushima plant more than two years after it was crippled by the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and monster tsunami.
When the disaster struck, knocking out power, Tepco was unable to cool reactors 1 to 3 before they experienced core meltdowns or keep the empty reactor 4′s external spent-fuel pool cooled. Subsequent hydrogen explosions severely damaged the buildings housing reactors 1, 3 and 4.
Reactors 1, 2 and 3 are currently being kept cool through continued water injections — a process that is creating a huge accumulation of radioactive water that Tepco is hard-pressed to deal with.
Tepco plans to start taking out fuel assemblies from reactor 4′s spent-fuel pool later this year and move on to the removal of fuel from the spent-fuel pools of units 1 to 3, before trying to extract the melted fuel in their cores, which at their present state of danger are inaccessible.
The removal of the melted fuel is expected to take place in the final stage of the decommissioning process.