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Tepco has begun possibly the most critical process of its clean-up operation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as it attempts to delicately remove the fuel rods, place them in steel casks and transfer them to safer storage facilities.
On Monday it carefully extracted the first of more than 1,500 potentially damaged fuel rods from the storage pool at the damaged, and unstable reactor No.4. Tepco estimates that it will take around a year to complete the task of relocating the 400 tonnes of highly irradiated fuel rods, although industry experts believe that this is a highly ambitious target.
The first rod was placed in the protective steel cask, designed to safely house 22 rods, whilst still submerged in the cooling pool. The fear is that allowing any of the rods to come into contact with the air could release deadly levels of radiation and potentially cause the rod to over-heat and go into meltdown. It is though that it will take another two days to fill the cask and then as much as a week to move the cask to another building where it will be stored in a different pool.
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The urgency to relocate these rods is a result of the unstable state in which they are currently housed. The existing storage pool is 18 metres above ground level, in a building that has already buckled and tilted over, ready to collapse at any moment, as a result of being crippled by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
If another earthquake strikes before all of the rods can be removed, it is possible that the levels of radiation released will be higher than the initial disaster.
Reuters likens the operation of removing the rods to that of taking cigarettes out of a crushed pack, except that the rods are 4.5 metres long, weigh about 300 kg each, and are stored in assemblies of 50-70.
By. Joao Piece of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com