Melted fuel removal at Fukushima delayed by pandemic

TOKYO (AP) - The Japanese government and the operator of the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant said Thursday that the removal of the molten reactor fuel, which is scheduled to begin in 2021, will have to be postponed for about a year due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
The Department of Commerce and Industry and Tokyo Electric Power Co. had planned to remove a first batch of molten debris from the Unit 2 reactor in Fukushima Dai-ichi sometime next year to mark the 10th anniversary of the massive earthquake and the Celebrating tsunami triggered disaster on March 11, 2011.
The start of molten debris removal will now be delayed until the end of 2022, officials said.
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The worsening virus situation in the UK has resulted in delays as a robotic arm in that country was jointly developed by Veolia Nuclear Solutions and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
Necessary tests were delayed. And delivery of the robotic arm, which was originally scheduled for January, is now expected to be in April, said Shuji Okuda, a Commerce Department official in charge of nuclear facility development.
The decommissioning of the nuclear power plant is expected to take another 30 to 40 years.
Removing the 800 tons of nuclear fuel in the three reactors, which have melted, fallen out of their cores, and hardened to the bottom of their primary containment vessels, is by far the toughest challenge of the decommissioning process.
TEPCO has made progress in gathering information about conditions inside the reactors. A small telescopic robot that went into Unit 2 showed that small pieces of debris could loosen and lift out. An assessment in Block 3 was hampered by high radiation and water levels in its primary containment, and a robotic investigation in Block 1 was unsuccessful due to extremely high levels of radiation.
The government and TEPCO also have problems with the massive amount of treated but still contaminated water that is pooling and storing in about 1,000 tanks, as the facility is expected to run out of space in less than two years. A recommendation from the government body to release the water into the sea has been rejected by local residents, including fishermen and neighboring countries.
Experts say a 30- to 40-year closure target is too optimistic for decommissioning. Some have expressed doubts as to whether removing all of the molten fuel is feasible and are suggesting an approach like Chernobyl - contain the reactors and wait for the radioactivity to naturally decrease.

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