Japan Deploys Specialized Rod to Tackle Fukushima Fuel Debris

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Japan Deploys Specialized Rod to Tackle Fukushima Fuel Debris

Delicate Fishing Rod to Tackle Fukushima's Melted Fuel

In a groundbreaking effort to tackle the daunting task of removing melted nuclear fuel debris from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant, engineers have devised a specialized device resembling a fishing rod. This innovative tool will be deployed to "hook" tiny bits of radioactive material from one of the three damaged reactors.

The operation, spearheaded by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), is slated to commence in October on a trial basis. The equipment, unveiled to reporters in May, is designed to navigate the treacherous environment within the wrecked facility, where radiation levels remain dangerously high.

The removal of melted fuel represents the most intricate phase of the decommissioning process. TEPCO plans to initiate the procedure at the No. 2 reactor, where radiation levels are comparatively lower, aiming to extract a few grams of the hazardous material.

A demonstration of the extendable pipe, crucial for this delicate maneuver, was conducted at a facility in Kobe operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. The 22-meter-long device, designed like a fishing pole, was inserted into a model of the pedestal supporting the reactor's pressure vessel. The objective was to assess the device's ability to grasp pebbles representing fuel debris with its claw-like arm.

An estimated 880 tons of fuel debris remain scattered across the plant's No. 1 to No. 3 reactors. Initial plans by the government and TEPCO envisioned the commencement of the removal process in 2021. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and mechanical malfunctions forced a postponement on three occasions.

Furthermore, the chosen recovery method, involving a specially developed robotic arm, proved to lack the necessary precision. Consequently, TEPCO has opted for a more cautious approach, initiating the procedure with a simple rod-style system before deploying the robotic arm at a later stage.