Fukushima cleanup chief urges better use of probe robot

The head of decommissioning for the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant said Thursday that more creativity is needed in developing robots to locate and assess the condition of melted fuel rods.

Naohiro Masuda, president of Fukushima Dai-ichi decommissioning, said Thursday that more data is needed so they can develop a better strategy for removing debris. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., and the government will decide on a method this summer.

Masuda said that a robot sent inside the Unit 2 containment vessel last month could not reach as close to the core area as hoped, because it was blocked on its planned route by deposits, believed to be mixture of melted fuel and broken pieces of equipment.

Masuda said he wants another probe sent in before deciding on methods to remove the reactor's debris.

TEPCO needs to know the melted fuel's exact location as well as structural damage in each of the three wrecked reactors to figure out the best and safest ways to remove the fuel.

Despite the incomplete probe missions, officials have said they want to stick to their schedule to determine the removal methods this summer and start work in 2021.

Unit 2 is one of the Fukushima reactors that melted down following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The unit had less damage to its containment vessel, so internal probes there are ahead of the other two reactors.

Still, the earlier probes have suggested worse-than-anticipated challenges for the plant's cleanup, which is expected to take decades.

Similar probes are being planned for the other two reactors. A tiny waterproof robot will be sent into Unit 1 in coming weeks, while experts are still trying to figure out a way to access the badly damaged Unit 3.

TEPCO is struggling with the plant's decommissioning. The 2011 meltdown forced tens of thousands of nearby residents to evacuate their homes, and many have still not been able to return home due to high radiation levels.

Images captured from inside the chamber show damage, and structures coated with molten material, possibly mixed with melted nuclear fuel.



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