Nuclear material discovery at Fukushima could eradicate radiation risk
Nuclear fuel debris has possibly been found under the wreckage of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant according to its operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco).
The probable location of the material is underneath the damaged No. 2 reactor which was one of three that experienced meltdowns in the 2011 disaster.
Should the finding be confirmed, it would mark a significant breakthrough in attempts to clean up the nuclear plant, after years of delays, mis-steps and leaks of radioactive water.
In December it was revealed that the total cost of cleaning up after the disaster was predicted to be double the original estimates at 22.6tr yen (£151bn).
Finding the highly radioactive melted uranium rods may pave the way for Tepco to develop methods to remove the melted fuel.
Tepco detected a black lump of material directly [pictured] below the reactor in an inspection by camera on Monday morning, but cannot yet confirm what it is, a spokesman said.
In the world’s worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986, three reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima plant melted down after a magnitude nine earthquake struck off the coast of Japan in March 2011, triggering a tsunami that devastated a large area and killed more than 15,000 people.
About 160,000 people fled their homes after the meltdowns caused explosions that dumped radioactive materials across a swath of Fukushima prefecture. Many of the people are unlikely to return.
It took Tepco about two months to admit the reactors had melted down, confirming what experts had been saying for weeks.
Tepco has made some progress, such as removing hundreds of spent fuel rods in one of the damaged buildings. However, it has failed to establish the location of the melted fuel rods in the other three damaged reactors at the plant.
The utility has been developing robots that can swim under water and negotiate obstacles in damaged tunnels and piping to search for the melted fuel rods. As soon as the robots get close to the reactors, the radiation destroys their wiring and renders them useless.
Plans to remove spent nuclear fuel located high in the damaged building of the No. 3 reactor have reportedly been delayed again.