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TEPCO fails to pinpoint melted fuel at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

A photo capturing contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which was taken by a robot on March 21, 2017. (Photo courtesy of the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) failed to locate melted nuclear fuel inside the No. 1 reactor at the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in a robot probe, though it found higher levels of radiation toward the bottom of the reactor container vessel, the utility said on March 27.

    TEPCO made the announcement after analyzing data obtained from a probe conducted from March 18 through 22, in which a remotely controlled robot was sent into the No. 1 reactor's container vessel for research.

    The power company is set to finalize a decision to take out melted fuel from the No. 1 through No. 3 reactors as early as this coming summer, accelerating work to decommission the facilities. Like a similar robot probe inside the No. 2 reactor last month, however, the latest survey on the No. 1 reactor also failed to obtain data necessary to extract melted fuel, such as where the fuel is located. Therefore, the utility is compelled to consider fetching melted fuel in the absence of sufficient data.

    TEPCO injected a robot that can move on a running belt into the container vessel of the No. 1 reactor. The robot hung a wire holding a camera and a dosimeter at its tip from a metal grating for workers and measured the condition of the contaminated water below. From March 18 to 22, the robot examined an area near a slot from which the device is injected into the vessel and measured 1.5 to 11 sieverts per hour of radiation. Between March 20 and 22, the robot explored an area around the opening for workers at the bottom of the container vessel, which is close to where melted fuel is believed to be situated, and detected measurements of 3 to 9.4 sieverts of radiation.

    Sand-like sediment was found to be spreading across the bottom of the container vessel. Because of accumulated sediment near the opening, the robot could gauge radiation doses only up to a height of 90 centimeters from the bottom of the vessel. Compared to the radiation levels at the same height of an area where melted fuel is believed not to exist, the area near the opening showed higher radiation readings.

    It is believed that most of the melted fuel at the No. 1 reactor has spread across the contaminated water accumulating at the bottom of its container vessel. TEPCO believes that melted fuel is likely leaking from the opening.

    Naohiro Masuda, head of TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination & Decommissioning Engineering Co., told a press conference on March 7, "The results of this probe will be precious resources for us to make a decision on our plan."

    (Mainichi)

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