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Damage inside No. 2 reactor building at Fukushima plant greater than expected

Damage within the No. 2 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was found to be greater than expected, based on images sent back by a robot sent into the structure by plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) in a mission that concluded Feb. 16.

    The operation used a self-propelled scorpion-shaped robot, with the goal of investigating the inside of the reactor's containment vessel and the area directly beneath the reactor, but the area under the reactor was not reached. The No. 2 reactor building was thought to be comparatively undamaged compared to the No. 1 and No. 3 reactor buildings, where hydrogen explosions occurred. Worse damage than expected was discovered, however, such as holes in the grating foothold inside the containment vessel.

    At a press conference, TEPCO official Yuichi Okamura stressed, "This investigation was the first of its type in the world and uncovered information about the debris inside. The mission wasn't a failure."

    The robot's camera also took footage of the condition of pipes in the structure, and image processing could make these pictures clearer. However, the robot's treads stopped moving after it proceeded over 2 meters along a rail, and TEPCO was not able to use it to check the melted nuclear fuel.

    TEPCO plans to decide as early as this summer on how to remove the melted fuel from the No. 1 through No. 3 reactors and start the decommissioning process in earnest. The results of the investigation were to be used as base data for the decommissioning, but with it having not produced an overall understanding of the No. 2 reactor building's interior, a new investigation will probably be sought.

    However, no plan for the next investigation has been decided, and it may begin with the development of a new robot. TEPCO plans to send in a different robot to the No. 1 reactor building next month. For the No. 3 reactor building, a robot capable of moving in water is being developed because there is a large amount of contaminated water at the bottom of its containment vessel.

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