Suspected nuclear fuel found at Fukushima site

There are fresh hopes of a breakthrough in the clean-up of the Fukushima nuclear plant after new images emerged from beneath its wreckage.

Possible melted uranium fuel rods may have been spotted in pictures taken underneath one of three reactors that suffered a meltdown in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the operator of the crippled plant, said on Monday it may have spotted the radioactive debris beneath the damaged No 2 reactor.

Photographs and video footage captured by a remote-controlled camera show black lumps on a grate under the reactor's pressure vessel. The lumps were not present before the earthquake.

If confirmed as nuclear debris, it may pave the way for Tepco to remove the melted fuel after years of delays, missteps and leaks of radioactive water.


Suspected nuclear fuel found at Fukushima site


Image Caption: The plant on 11 March 2011 as authorities battled to contain the damage

A Tepco official called the discovery "a big step forward" in the "decommissioning process".

Previous attempts to use robots to locate melted nuclear fuel failed because the devices were rendered useless by the strength of the radiation.

The 9-magnitude quake struck offshore, creating a tsunami that swept across the coastline and triggered the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The Fukushima meltdowns leaked radiation over a wide area of the countryside, contaminating water, food and air.

More than 18,000 people lost their lives or were missing.

About 160,000 others were forced to flee their homes in the wake of the disaster, and many of those who lived in Fukushima prefecture are unlikely to return.

In December, Japan's government said projected costs related to the fallout had doubled to 21.5 trillion yen (ˆ150bn).



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