Hopes have been raised for a breakthrough in the decommissioning of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant after its operator said it may have discovered melted fuel beneath a reactor, almost six years after the plant suffered a triple meltdown. Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said on January 30, 2017 that a remote camera appeared to have found the debris beneath the badly damaged No 2 reactor, where radiation levels remain dangerously high. Locating the fuel is the first step towards removing it. If Tepco can confirm that the black mass comprises melted fuel, it would represent a significant breakthrough in a recovery effort that has been hit by mishaps, the buildup of huge quantities of contaminated water, and soaring costs….Using a remotely controlled camera attached to the end of a 10.5-metre-long telescopic arm, Tepco technicians located black lumps on wire-mesh grating just below the reactor’s pressure vessel, local media reported.
The company plans to send a scorpion-like robot equipped with cameras, radiation measuring equipment and a temperature gauge into the No 2 reactor containment vessel….Three previous attempts to use robots to locate melted fuel inside the same reactor ended in failure when the devices were rendered useless by radiation.
The delicate, potentially dangerous task of decommissioning the plant has barely begun, however.Japanese media said that plans to remove spent fuel from the No 3 reactor building had been delayed, while decommissioning the entire plant was expected to take at least 40 years. In December 2016, the government said the estimated cost of decommissioning the plant and decontaminating the surrounding area, as well as paying compensation and storing radioactive waste, had risen to 21.5 trillion yen ($187bn), nearly double an estimate released in 2013.
Excerpts Possible nuclear fuel find raises hopes of Fukushima plant breakthrough, Guardian, Jan. 30, 2017