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 5:45 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 4:48 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
updated 7:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
updated 5:26 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
updated 5:54 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
updated 9:16 AM EST, Thu December 18, 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