Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has begun the slow and delicate process of removing fuel rods from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, starting with reactor four.
The 1,500 fuel rods contained within reactor four’s storage pool are expected to be removed by the end of 2014.
They will be taken out using a crane in batches of 22, sealed in watertight casks. The casks will be transferred to another storage pool nearby with its own cooling system.
In a video statement released by TEPCO, company President Naomi Hirose said: “The system is rugged enough to withstand another major earthquake yet sensitive enough that it will automatically stop the fuel extraction if it senses anything wrong.”
He described the step as an “important milestone”.
Shunichi Tanaka, Chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority has warned that fallen rubble in reactor four’s storage pool could pose a risk to the operation. He stated: “The fuel has to be handled very carefully. There is a need to make sure that a fuel assembly is not pulled out by force when it gets stuck because of the rubble.”