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 10:50 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
The comparisons are inevitable: A student-led campaign challenges Beijing authorities for greater freedom. Could Hong Kong protests lead to another Tiananmen?
updated 11:54 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
With an efficient subway, inexpensive taxis and a good public bus system, Hong Kong is normally an easy city to navigate ...
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Experts believe that ISIS may be using a Spanish enclave to bring jihad to Europe.
updated 3:52 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
In a country with not enough toilets, scavengers are paid just $5 a day to scoop human waste.
updated 7:32 PM EDT, Sun September 28, 2014
CNN's Ivan Watson was in the middle of a pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong when things got out of hand.
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The world's animal population has halved in 40 years as humans put unsustainable demands on Earth, a new report warns.
updated 8:49 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Every day, refugees and migrants risk their lives as they seek a new life. Now, a new report puts a figure to the number of victims.
updated 5:28 AM EDT, Thu October 2, 2014
It's a frightening prospect for South Koreans: secret North Korean tunnels under Seoul
updated 10:42 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mainstream commentators must promote positive role models to Muslims feeling victimized, writes Ghaffar Hussain.
updated 2:13 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Two men familiar with inside knowledge of ISIS speak with CNN's Arwa Damon.
updated 9:15 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
If you're lucky, your train might be delayed.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 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