Skip to main content

TEPCO to begin removing nuclear fuel rods at Fukushima

By Kevin Voigt, CNN
updated 6:28 PM EST, Thu November 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Plant operators will begin the delicate work of removing nuclear fuel from Fukushima
  • TEPCO will begin taking out 1,500 spent fuel units from Reactor 4 for storage
  • Plant damaged by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March 2011
  • Cleanup beset by numerous problems, including the leak of 300 tons of radioactive water

(CNN) -- More than two years after an earthquake and tsunami brought disaster to a nuclear plant in eastern Japan, operators Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) announced plans Wednesday to begin the painstaking and dangerous process of removing fuel rods from a crippled reactor at the site.

The procedure is considered a milestone in the estimated $50 billion cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. "Fuel removal really means the start of decommissioning," plant chief Akira Ono said, according to Japan's Nikkei Shimbun.

When the tsunami swamped the plant, located 149 miles (240 kilometers) north of Tokyo on Japan's eastern seaboard in March 2011, it cut the power to vital cooling systems for the three reactors in use at the time. This resulted in the second-worst nuclear accident in history -- after Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986 -- as the reactors melted down and leaked radioactive material into the atmosphere.

The 'nuclear renaissance:' What went wrong?

Fukushima to remove fuel rods
Nuclear plant workers claim mistreatment
Living in limbo near Fukushima
Trying to decontaminate Fukushima

The Fukushima cleanup has been beset by numerous problems, including the leak of 300 tons of radioactive water from a storage tank.

TEPCO will begin taking out 1,500 spent fuel units from Reactor 4 for storage in safer specially designed containers, the company says. The reactor building exploded in the aftermath of tsunami likely due to a build-up of hydrogen from a neighboring reactor, according to TEPCO.

The cost of decontamination is estimated to be ¥5 trillion (U.S.$50.7 billion) or more, Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

After Fukushima: Could Germany's nuclear gamble backfire?

Fallout continues for Tokyo on the Fukushima disaster. Earlier this week, China demanded an accurate assessment of cleanup efforts.

"China follows closely the countermeasures to be adopted by Japan. We urge the Japanese side to spare no effort in minimizing the subsequent impact of the accident and provide timely, comprehensive and accurate information to the international community," Wang Min, China's deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said Tuesday at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
updated 8:18 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
updated 5:43 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
updated 4:06 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
updated 2:45 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
A Syrian cleric condemns ISIS and its execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig.
updated 12:29 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
TV anchor wears the same suit for a year. Female colleague wears new outfit daily. Who gets criticized?
updated 7:04 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT