Re­ac­tor ro­bot finds ‘melted fuel’

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

TOKYO — Lava-like rocks be­lieved to be melted nu­clear fuel have been spot­ted in­side Ja­pan’s stricken Fukushima re­ac­tor by an un­der­wa­ter ro­bot, the plant’s op­er­a­tor said at the end of a three-day in­spec­tion.

Large amounts of the so­lid­i­fied lumps and de­posit were spot­ted for the first time by the ro­bot on the floor of the pri­mary con­tain­ment ves­sel un­der­neath the core of Fukushima’s No 3 re­ac­tor, the Tokyo Elec­tric Power Co said.

“There is a high pos­si­bil­ity that the so­lid­i­fied ob­jects are mix­tures of melted metal and fuel that fell from the ves­sel,” a TEPCO spokesman said, adding that the com­pany was plan­ning fur­ther anal­y­sis of the im­ages.

The three-day in­ves­ti­ga­tion us­ing the small, re­mote con­trolled un­der­wa­ter ro­bot, which is about the size of a loaf of bread, ended on Satur­day, the spokesman said.

TEPCO said the im­ages were the first “highly likely” sight­ing of melted fuel since the 2011 dis­as­ter, when a mas­sive un­der­sea earth­quake sent a huge wave bar­rel­ing into Ja­pan’s north­east coast, killing more than 18,500 peo­ple, and send­ing three re­ac­tors into melt­down at the plant in the worst such ac­ci­dent since Ch­er­nobyl in 1986.

Lo­cat­ing the fuel de­bris is a key part of the de­com­mis­sion­ing process for the plant, which is ex­pected to take decades.

In Fe­bru­ary, TEPCO sent another ro­bot into one of three dam­aged re­ac­tors where ra­di­a­tion lev­els have hit record highs.

But the mis­sion at the No. 2 re­ac­tor was aborted as the ro­bot had dif­fi­culty mov­ing and could not reach its tar­get des­ti­na­tion be­neath the pres­sure ves­sel, through which nu­clear fuel is be­lieved to have melted.

The Ja­panese gov­ern­ment said in De­cem­ber that it ex­pects to­tal costs in­clud­ing com­pen­sa­tion, de­com­mis­sion­ing and de­con­tam­i­na­tion to reach 21.5 tril­lion yen ($192.5 bil­lion) in a process likely to take at least four decades as high ra­di­a­tion lev­els slow op­er­a­tions.

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