Four decades or even more may be needed for the removal of nuclear fuel from the facility
The Fukushima Daiichi power plant suffered a triple meltdown after the March 11th, 2011 tsunami that killed almost 19,000 people along the north-east coast of Japan. The disaster forced 160,000 people to flee their homes, 100,000 of whom are still displaced because of the high levels of radiation in the area.
The big challenge (and one the nuclear industry has never faced before) is the removal of hundreds of tons of melted fuel from the plant’s stricken reactors, as the tsunami knocked out the plant’s cooling system. The project has an estimated cost of almost $20bn. In late 2014, arguably the most dangerous task was completed, with the removal of hundreds of spent fuel rods from a storage pool inside a damaged reactor building. But work on removing the melted fuel has barely begun. Engineers estimate that 30-40 years is an achievable target for this process and removal will possibly begin in 2021. Environmentalists, however, argue that it is unlikely to happen since the exact locations of the fuel are still not well-defined.
Water is constantly directed into the reactors’ basements to prevent the fuel inside from heating up, a method that proved to be effective but created enormous quantities of contaminated water. This water is then pumped out and stored in tanks that cover large areas of the Fukushima Daiichi site. Tepco (Tokyo Electric Power Company) is able to remove 62 radionuclides from contaminated water – but not tritium – and has so far been unable to get permission from local fishermen to release the treated water into the Pacific Ocean. The site is nearing its current water storage capacity of 850,000 tons, and there are plans to add to the existing 1,000 tanks, bringing the amount of contaminated water at the plant close to one million tons. Tepco expects to have collected and treated all contaminated water pooled around the reactors by 2020, and will need to continue processing only coolant water for the reactors.
The 1,000 tanks built for the storage of contaminated water from Fukushima’s damaged reactors are nearing capacity. Photograph: AP
Local authorities continue the decontamination of the surrounding areas, collecting soil and other low level radioactive waste in more than 10 million black bags. Even though 26000 workers are involved in this cleanup, there are still more than 40 communities to be decontaminated.
Thousands of large black plastic bags containing radioactive soil and debris removed from towns and villages near the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Photograph: Franck Robichon/EPA
To save space, the soil bags are stacked in layers on top of each other. Photograph: Arkadiusz Podniesinski/REX
Source: The guardian