Robot finds likely melted fuel heap inside Fukushima reactor

24 July, 2017, 01:56 | Author: Rolando Keller
  • Robot finds possible melted fuel in Fukushima reactor

New images from an underwater robot may provide evidence of significant melted nuclear fuel deposits on the floor of one of the ill-fated Fukushima nuclear plant's reactors.

Tepco has made a decision to carry out another search on Saturday, sending the robot as far as the bottom of the containment vessel, where a chunk of melted fuel is believed to have accumulated.

The condition of fuel debris inside the damaged reactors remains unknown, even though six years have passed since a huge quake and subsequent tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster at the seaside plant.

The three-day investigation using the small, remote controlled underwater robot, which is about the size of a loaf of bread, ended Saturday, the spokesman said.

The significance of the recent finding "might be evidence that the robots used by Tepco can now deal with the higher radiation levels, at least for periods of time that allow them to search parts of the reactor that are more likely to contain fuel debris", M.V. Ramana, professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, said by email.

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Wednesday's probe showed a metallic scaffold, which was placed inside the containment vessel before the disaster, had gone missing. When the utility sent a different robot into reactor 2 in January, it found black lumps sticking to the grating in the primary containment vessel but said they were hard to identify.

Reactors 1, 2 and 3 experienced a partial nuclear meltdown due to failures of the cooling systems after an natural disaster and tsunami in March 2011.

On Saturday, the machine went deeper near the bottom of the containment vessel.

Although it's been six years since the Japanese quake and tsunami resulted in what many believe was the worst nuclear event since Chernobyl in the 1980s, the melted nuclear fuel debris sightings around Fukushima may be followed up with more revelations.

From January to March, Tepco conducted multiple surveys, including sending a self-propelled robot into reactors of units one and two, where water levels are lower than in the unit three reactor. However, a follow-up survey by another Toshiba-designed robot in February failed to confirm the location of any melted fuel in the reactor after it got stuck in debris.

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