The decommissioning authority (NDF) for Fukushima Daiichi has confirmed they will likely use a method to attempt to remove melted nuclear fuel that does not include flooding the containment structures.
Initial concepts by TEPCO and other parties charged with decommissioning the disaster site focused on “flooded” fuel removal methods. This was loosely based on the damaged fuel removal process used on the Three Mile Island reactor that suffered a meltdown in 1979. The difference being that TMI did not suffer reactor vessel failure. The three units at Fukushima Daiichi all suffered full meltdowns and failure of the reactor vessels. This meant they would have to determine a way to flood the containment structures. This concept was found to have multiple challenges including preventing criticalities in the fuel debris, preventing leaks of highly contaminated water and preventing a structural failure of the then flooded containment.
The various parties involved in decommissioning research are required to publish a clear plan for removing the melted fuel by the summer of 2017. This necessity to publish a plan requires admissions of the conditions within the three reactor units. This admission that only a dry method of fuel removal will be proposed tells much about the extent of the damage within the units even as they have been unable to identify the location of any of the fuel. This is a major departure from 2011 claims by TEPCO that only partial meltdowns took place.
Initial research and development has been underway with major contractors such as Hitachi and Toshiba for robotic arms that could potentially be used for this dry removal process.
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