TOKYO – The operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant said on Friday it has managed to control the accumulation of contaminated water in the plant and added that the extraction of melted atomic fuel from the reactors is the biggest challenge in the short and medium term.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japanese government, which is supervising the decommissioning of the plant, gave a positive assessment of the cleanup work’s progress, a few days before the seventh anniversary of the catastrophe in Japan’s northeastern Fukushima prefecture.
In a press conference in Tokyo on Friday, Naohiro Masuda, TEPCO’s chief decommissioning officer, said the operator had gone from treating the plant as a “war zone” to establishing a situation of normalcy in the years since the disaster occurred.
Both TEPCO and the government stressed the “success” of the different systems used to reduce the accumulation of radioactive water in the plant, including the construction of an underground ice wall.
Owing to these measures, the amount of contaminated water generated in the plant daily has been reduced to a quarter (around 110 cubic meters), which is stored in tanks inside the nuclear facilities, Masuda said.
The progress made will allow the authorities to keep to the short and medium term schedule established for cleanup operations, which will go on until 2040 or 2050, said Satoru Toyomoto, from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Both TEPCO and the government also acknowledged the “complex, technical challenges” that lay ahead for the plant, including the removal of the nuclear fuel that melted during the accident triggered by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The first step in this direction has been to introduce several robots in the last few months inside reactors 1, 2, and 3, to measure the radiation levels and temperature, among other details, and to locate the melted fuel.
However, the agencies have still not been able to identify the exact location of the materials owing to extreme levels of radioactivity inside the reactors, which has damaged some of the robots sent inside, and owing to the fact that the containment vessels were flooded with sea water to prevent radiation leaks and to cool the fuel.
In such a scenario and considering that melted fuel has never been removed from inside a reactor, TEPCO, the government and several Japanese companies are trying to develop a robotic technology that will allow them to start this task around 2021.
The main risk that such efforts will carry will be possible radioactive leaks or the exposure of workers to the radiation, according to the TEPCO official, who also said that preventive measures will be taken, such as the installation of protective covers on the reactors.