Melted nuke fuel images show struggle facing Fukushima plant
One of the several courageous robots to make one-way trips into Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant's severely damaged reactors has accomplished what its less fortunate compatriots did not, sending back photos of what appears to be melted nuclear fuel from the interior of the ruined facility.
The pictures were taken by a Toshiba-designed robot the company sent to explore the inside of the reactor for the first time from July 19.
Knowing the exact status of the radioactive fuel rods is essential to handling and removing them. The search for melted fuel in the two other reactors has so far been unsuccessful because of damage and extremely high radiation levels.
The company aims to decide on the procedure to remove the melted fuel from each unit as soon as this summer.
"There is a high possibility that the solidified objects are mixtures of melted metal and fuel that fell from the vessel", a TEPCO spokesman said.
The images marked the first confirmation through a robot probe of a large amount of nuclear debris in any of the embattled No. 1 through No. 3 reactors.
Locating the fuel in each of the three wrecked reactors is crucial for the plant's decommissioning.
Reactor cooling systems were crippled while units one to three all suffered fuel meltdowns in the world's worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis.
Decommissioning the reactors will cost 8 trillion yen ($72 billion), according to an estimate in December from the ministry of economy, trade and industry. But the rods melted into a puddle and burned through its bottom once the plant lost power after being swamped by the monstrous tsunami of March 11, 2011. Meanwhile, Friday's investigation focused searching the area in detail before examining fuel debris inside the vessel.
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