OKUMA, Japan (AP) — The operator of Japan's tsunami-ravaged nuclear power plant said Wednesday that work was steadily progressing in its plans to remove fuel rods from a cooling pool at the center of international concerns.
The Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant suffered meltdowns at three reactors as a result of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Hydrogen explosions at another of the plant's reactors, Unit 4, damaged a reactor building and a cooling pool, raising concerns in Japan and other countries, including the United States.
Despite repeated reassurances by the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., and government officials about the safety of the Unit 4 building following structural reinforcement, the cooling pool has caused uneasiness among a public wary of the consequences of another major earthquake.
Experts have said the fuel inside the pool, which is not enclosed and sits on the highest floor of the building, should be relocated quickly. A power loss similar to the one during the 2011 disaster could cause the fuel inside the pool to dry up, overheat and possibly cause even worse radiation leaks, they say.
The plant's manager, Takeshi Takahashi, told journalists Wednesday during a tour of the plant that the removal of the fuel rods will begin in November and take a year to complete. It will be the first major step in a decades-long cleanup of the plant.
"We are steadily making progress, one step at a time," Takahashi said.
Even though the Unit 4 reactor building has performed well in tests of its quake resistance, it would be best to move fuel from the pool to a safer storage area, he said.
Work was visibly in progress around Unit 4 during the plant tour. A special structure designed to remove fuel rods from the pool is being built next to Unit 4 reactor building.
TEPCO also plans to remove melted fuel from the wrecked reactors within 10 years, but full decommissioning of the plant is expected to take decades.