Removal of fuel in pool at Fukushima’s melted reactor begins

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A screen shows the removal of first of 566 used and unused fuel units stored in the pool at Unit 3 at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, on April 15, 2019. (Kyodo News via AP)
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Tepco operators of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi power plant remove nuclear fuel from the storage pool of the No. 3 unit on April 15, 2019. (Jiji Press/AFP)
Updated 15 April 2019
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Removal of fuel in pool at Fukushima’s melted reactor begins

  • Workers started removing the first of 566 used and unused fuel units stored in the pool at Unit 3
  • Tokyo Electric Power Co says the removal at Unit 3 would take two years

TOKYO: The operator of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant has begun removing fuel from a cooling pool at one of three reactors that melted down in the 2011 disaster, a milestone in the decades-long process to decommission the plant.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday that workers started removing the first of 566 used and unused fuel units stored in the pool at Unit 3. The fuel units in the pool located high up in reactor buildings are intact despite the disaster, but the pools are not enclosed, so removing the units to safer ground is crucial to avoid disaster in case of another major quake.
TEPCO says the removal at Unit 3 would take two years, followed by the two other reactors where about 1,000 fuel units remain in the storage pools.
Removing fuel units from the cooling pools comes ahead of the real challenge of removing melted fuel from inside the reactors, but details of how that might be done are still largely unknown. Removing the fuel in the cooling pools was delayed more than four years by mishaps, high radiation and radioactive debris from an explosion that occurred at the time of the reactor meltdown, underscoring the difficulties that remain.
Workers are remotely operating a crane built underneath a jelly roll-shaped roof cover to raise the fuel from a storage rack in the pool and place it into a protective cask. The whole process occurs underwater to prevent radiation leaks. Each cask will be filled with seven fuel units, then lifted from the pool and lowered to a truck that will transport the cask to a safer cooling pool elsewhere at the plant.
The work is carried out remotely from a control room about 500 meters (yards) away because of still-high radiation levels inside the reactor building that houses the pool.
About an hour after the work began Monday, the first fuel unit was safely stored inside the cask, TEPCO said.
“I believe everything is going well so far,” plant chief Tomohiko Isogai told Japan’s NHK television from Fukushima. “We will watch the progress at the site as we put safety first. Our goal is not to rush the process but to carefully proceed with the decommissioning work.”
In 2014, TEPCO safely removed all 1,535 fuel units from the storage pool at a fourth reactor that was idle and had no fuel inside its core when the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami occurred.
Robotic probes have photographed and detected traces of damaged nuclear fuel in the three reactors that had meltdowns, but the exact location and other details of the melted fuel are largely unknown. Removing fuel from the cooling pools will help free up space for the subsequent removal of the melted fuel, though details of how to gain access to it are yet to be decided.
Experts say the melted fuel in the three reactors amounts to more than 800 tons.
In February, a remote-controlled robot with tongs removed pebbles of nuclear debris from the Unit 2 reactor but was unable to remove larger chunks, indicating a robot would need to be developed that can break the chunks into smaller pieces. Toshiba Corp.’s energy systems unit, which developed the robot, said the findings were key to determining the proper equipment and technologies needed to remove the melted fuel, the most challenging part of the decommissioning expected to take decades.
TEPCO and government officials plan to determine methods for removing the melted fuel from each of the three damaged reactors later this year so they can begin the process in 2021.


UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than insurgents

Updated 23 min 18 sec ago
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UN: Pro-government forces kill more Afghans than insurgents

  • The report says 1,773 civilians were hurt or died in the first three months
  • This is a significant drop from the same period last year when 2,305 civilians were killed or wounded

KABUL, Afghanistan: Afghan and international forces had killed more civilians than insurgents in the first three months of the year, the UN announced Wednesday, the first time the deaths caused by the government and its allies exceeded their enemies.
Still it was insurgents who were responsible for the majority of dead and wounded civilians combined, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s report, which was released in Kabul.
The report said 1,773 civilians were hurt or died in the first three months, which is a significant drop from the same period last year when 2,305 civilians were killed or wounded. Last year, many brutal suicide bombings were blamed for the high casualties.
Between Jan. 1 and March 31, the report said 581 civilians were killed and 1,192 were hurt. While insurgents caused a significant majority of the injuries, it was pro-government forces, including NATO, whch killed the majority of civilians. They were responsible for 305 civilian deaths, nearly half of them in airstrikes. The other heavy death toll took place during searches, according to the report.
At the same time, the government and international forces injured 303 civilians, compared to insurgent attacks that injured 736, the report said.
It’s the first time since 2009, when the UN began compiling statistics on civilian casualties, that the deaths as a result of actions by the government and its allies exceeded their enemies.
Most of the deaths were the result of aerial attacks, which were most often carried out by international forces. While the report does not identify the United States, it is the US that carries out airstrikes when called in to assist Afghan forces. It also follows a trend reported in last year’s UN annual report on civilian casualties, which showed a dramatic hike in civilian deaths by pro-government forces including more than 1,000 civilian casualties from airstrikes, the highest since the UN began keeping track 10 years ago.
In September last year, Masih Rahman’s entire family of 11 __ his wife, four daughters, three sons and four nephews __ were killed when a bomb flattened their home in Mullah Hafiz village in the Jaghatu district of Afghanistan’s central Maidan Wardak province.
“It’s not just my family, there are dozens of families just like mine who have been lost in bombings,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.
Rahman was working in Iran when he was told his entire family had been killed in an airstrike on his village, which is controlled by the Taliban. Rahman has sought redress from the United Nations. He has taken his case to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, which put out its own report on civilian casualties on Tuesday.
In that report, the commission said 11,212 civilians were hurt or wounded between March 31, 2018, and March 31 this year. In just the last 10 years of Afghanistan’s 17-year war, the commission said 75,316 Afghan civilians had died.
“A shocking number of civilians continue to be killed and maimed each day,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan.
He said that anti-government elements need to stop deliberately targeting civilians and using improvised bombs, which cause indiscriminate harm, while pro-government forces are called upon “to take immediate measures to mitigate the rising death toll and suffering caused by airstrikes and search operations.”