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TEPCO probe finds some debris in damaged Fukushima reactor removable

Pebble-like sediment believed to be nuclear fuel debris is lifted by a special device inside the No. 2 reactor containment vessel at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. (Photo courtesy of Tokyo Electric Power Co.)

TOKYO -- Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has announced it succeeded in lifting and moving deposits believed to be nuclear fuel debris inside the No. 2 reactor containment vessel at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Feb. 13, indicating the possibility that the materials can be taken outside the disaster-stricken facility.

The operation was the first probe of its kind to make contact with the deposits at the bottom of the containment vessel in the wake of the core meltdowns at the plant in March 2011.

Using a camera-mounted special device with 3-centermeter-long tongs, TEPCO surveyed six locations inside the vessel and managed to lift pebble-like deposits at five of those locations. The deposits each measured 1 to 8 centimeters across, and were able to be lifted up several centimeters, according to the utility.

Meanwhile, clayish sediment was found stuck to the bottom of the vessel and was immovable, meaning it will be a challenge to remove all debris before decommissioning the crippled nuclear power plant.

The probe was conducted in preparation for removal of the debris. Officials aimed to obtain information such as the shape and hardness of debris to help develop reactor probes and storage containers. TEPCO eyes No. 2 reactor as the first facility to undergo debris removal as probes have progressed the most there.

In fiscal 2019, the power company hopes to collect debris on a trial basis and bring the materials outside the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors for the first time. The utility will then decide on the first reactor to see full-scale debris removal before actually starting operations in 2021.

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

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