TOKYO – Japanese authorities on Friday decided to delay the removal of radioactive fuel from two reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant which was damaged by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011, according to official sources.
On March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed four of the plant’s six reactor units in the Fukushima prefecture, resulting in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which constructed the nuclear plant in the 1970s, has a deadline to decontaminate and fully dismantle the facility between 2041 to 2050.
The decision to delay the removal of fuel from reactors one and two was taken by the government on Friday, in the first review of the plant cleanup schedule in two years.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a press conference on Friday the government had discussed the mid-term and long-term plans to dismantle the Fukushima facility.
The removal of the fuel in reactor number one will be delayed by four to five years and would begin around 2027 or 2028 and for reactor number two, the process will be delayed by one to three years and will begin around 2024 or 2026.
In April 2019, TEPCO began removal of fuel from the cooling pool of unit three of the nuclear power plant, four years behind schedule.
Among the reasons outlined by the company for these delays were the failure of electronic and robotic devices when exposed to extreme levels of radiation that would be fatal to human workers.
After being told of the delay, Industry Minister Hiroshi Kajiyama said the cleanup was a complicated process and it was difficult to know what to expect.
Around 566 spent or unused uranium dioxide and MOX (a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxide) rods are stored Reactor 1 in cooling pools inside the building.
While there are about a thousand more rods in units one and two.
Fukushima Daiichi reactors one, two and three suffered meltdowns of their cores after the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck eight years ago.
Knowing the exact condition of the radioactive fuel deposits is key for their management and removal.
Reactor number four also suffered serious damage, but there was no meltdown inside it, and the removal of stored fuel from the reactor has been completed.
In addition to the risks posed by stored and damaged fuel, the Daiichi plant has been accumulating 170 tons of radioactive water per day, used in cooling the nuclear reactor, which has been leaking underground.
TEPCO aims to reduce the flow of radioactive water to 100 tons per day by 2025.
Around one million tons of water has already been stored in tanks built at the nuclear power plant, but they are set to be filled up in two years.