FUKUSHIMA – The operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant said Tuesday it has transferred some nuclear fuel from one of the reactor buildings damaged by hydrogen explosions in the 2011 disaster to another location for safer storage and management.
It was the first removal of such fuel from within the buildings for units Nos. 1 to 3, where it had been kept in storage pools, at the site, which suffered meltdowns after losing power following a massive earthquake and tsunami.
Seven unspent fuel rod assemblies were transferred Tuesday to a common pool about 100 meters away, according to Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
The transfer of nuclear fuel, which emits high levels of radiation, from the No. 3 unit pool is expected to lower the risk of the decommissioning work. The utility began the process of removing fuel there on April 15.
At around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, workers began using a trailer to relocate the fuel assemblies, placed in a cylinder-shaped cask, to the common pool. The task, completed in about 20 minutes, was carried out by about a dozen workers in protective gear.
Since the common pool undergoes regular checks as required by law, the fuel transfer may be suspended until July, the operator said.
Tepco aims to transfer all of the remaining 559 spent and unspent fuel assemblies from the No. 3 unit storage pool to the common pool by March 2021.
Fuel removal from the No. 3 unit was originally scheduled to start in late 2014 but was pushed back multiple times as high levels of radiation, among other factors, caused delays in the preparations for fuel transfer.
In fiscal 2023 the utility aims to start the task of removing fuel currently in the storage pools of the Nos. 1-2 units, and it has been assessing their surroundings.
Even if the fuel removal work progresses smoothly, Tepco still faces the biggest challenge in the decommissioning of the crippled plant — retrieval of melted fuel that has dripped down into the containment vessels at the Nos. 1-3 units.