TOKYO Nov 18 The operator of Japan's wrecked
Fukushima nuclear plant took the first step on Monday in the
long and hazardous process of decommissioning the facility,
extracting a fuel rod from its container for later removal.
Tokyo Electric Power Co said it transferred the rod
to a steel cask within the same cooling pool in a badly damaged
reactor building, beginning the delicate and unprecedented task
of removing 400 tonnes of highly irradiated spent fuel from that
While battling leaks of radiation-contaminated water around
the plant, which was knocked out by Japan's mammoth March 2011
earthquake and tsunami, Tepco has embarked on decommissioning
four reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. That task is
likely to take decades and cost tens of billions of dollars.
The company must carefully pluck more than 1,500 brittle and
potentially damaged assemblies from the unstable reactor No. 4.
Tepco estimates that removing all the rods from the reactor will
take a year, although some experts say that is an ambitious
The cask holds 22 rods. Transferring this first batch will
take about two days and it will take about a week to get the
cask to the common storage pool in another building, a Tepco
Moving them is urgent because they are being stored 18
metres (59 feet) above ground level in a building that has
buckled and tilted and could collapse if another quake strikes.
Removing the rods have been likened to taking cigarettes out
of a crushed pack.
If the rods are exposed to air or if they break, huge
amounts of radioactive gases could be released into the
atmosphere. There are 50-70 in each of the assemblies, which
weigh around 300 kg (660 pounds) and are 4.5 metres (15 feet)
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi and Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by
William Mallard and Ron Popeski)