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TEPCO begins probe to make 1st contact with nuke debris at Fukushima plant

A special device to be inserted into the No. 2 reactor's containment vessel at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is seen at Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corp. in Yokohama's Tsurumi Ward on Jan. 28, 2019. (Mainichi/Toshiyuki Suzuki)
The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter in Fukushima Prefecture. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Fujii)

TOKYO -- A probe to make the first contact with nuclear fuel debris inside the No. 2 reactor at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in the northeastern prefecture of Fukushima started on Feb. 13, the plant's operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said.

The examination using a remotely operated device, which began shortly after 7 a.m., will try to hold and lift the debris and check its status on the floor of the reactor's containment vessel. The device has two roughly 3-centimeter-long "fingers" -- capable of holding an object up to 2 kilograms in weight -- attached to its 30-centimeter-long, camera-mounted tip. The equipment was placed inside the vessel via a pipe that can be expanded from 11 meters to 15 meters in length. The debris will remain inside the reactor throughout the test.

Before the end of fiscal 2018, the government and TEPCO intend to select the first reactor at the Fukushima station from which molten nuclear fuel remains will be extracted. Many observers speculate that the No. 2 reactor will be the choice as preparations for the operation are most advanced at that facility. Full-fledged extraction is scheduled to begin as early as 2021.

TEPCO's three nuclear reactors at the plant suffered core meltdowns in 2011 after their cooling systems failed when a massive tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the plant, cutting off power. The damaged reactors released a massive amount of radioactive materials into the air, forcing hundreds of thousands of nearby residents to flee their homes.

(Japanese original by Toshiyuki Suzuki, Science & Environment News Department)

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