Aug 15, 2013

    Fukushima N-plant to attempt risky move

    THE operator of Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is preparing to remove 400 tonnes of highly-irradiated spent fuel from a damaged reactor building, a dangerous operation that has never been attempted on this scale.

    More than 1,300 used fuel-rod assemblies packed tightly together - containing radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic-bomb attack on Hiroshima 68 years ago - need to be removed from a building that is vulnerable to collapse, should another large earthquake hit the area.

    The operation, beginning in November at the plant's Reactor No. 4, is fraught with dangers, including the possibility of a large release of radiation if a fuel assembly breaks, gets stuck or gets too close to an adjacent bundle, said nuclear experts.

    That could lead to a worse disaster than the March 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant.

    Experts questioned whether Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) will be able to pull off the removal of all the assemblies successfully.

    "To jump to the conclusion that it is going to work just quite a leap of logic," said Mr Arnie Gundersen, a veteran United States nuclear engineer.

    Tepco said it recognises that the operation will be difficult, but believes it can carry it out safely.

    In a statement yesterday, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that evacuation orders continue to be in force around the Fukushima nuclear plant, and advised against travelling to those areas.