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Melted nuclear fuel spotted in Fukushima reactor

24 Juillet 2017

During this week's probe, cameras mounted on the robot showed extensive damage caused by the core meltdown, with fuel debris mixed with broken reactor parts, suggesting the hard challenges ahead in the decades-long decommissioning of the destroyed plant.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the robot found large amounts of lavalike debris apparently containing fuel that had flowed out of the core into the primary containment vessel of the Unit 3 reactor at Fukushima.

If confirmed, it would be a major milestone in the clear-up operation. After the tsunami hit and the plant lost power, the rods melted into a puddle and burned through the bottom, Japan Times reports. More than 200,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes due to nuclear contamination concerns. The search for melted fuel in the two other reactors has so far been unsuccessful because of damage and extremely high radiation levels.

Locating fuel debris in each of the plant's three damaged reactors is crucial to the costly decommissioning process that is expected to take decades.

The Fukushima plant was crippled by a massive undersea quake which sent a huge tsunami sweeping across Japan's northeast coast on 11 March 2011. However, three former Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) executives are now on trial on charges of negligence resulting in death and injury of more than 40 patients evacuated from a hospital near the plant.

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Tepco said there is a "high possibility" that the solidified objects found hanging "like icicles" around the control rod mechanism attached to the bottom of the reactor's pressure vessel, which holds the core, are mixtures of melted metal and fuel that fell from the vessel.

Finding the highly radioactive melted fuel rods may pave the way for Tepco to develop methods to remove the melted fuel.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. shows an image captured by an underwater robot inside the Unit 3 reactor at Fukushima nuclear plant during a news conference. "There is still a long way to go, including developing the necessary technology".

The submersible robot, about the size of a loaf of bread, is equipped with lights, manoeuvres with five propellers and collects data with two cameras and a dosimeter.

Melted nuclear fuel spotted in Fukushima reactor