Japan Government To Start Fukushima Reactor No. 4 SFP Fuel Rod Removal This Year (A Year Ahead Of Schedule), Cites Buckling Building And Earthquake Concerns To Be Behind Change

INTERVIEW-UPDATE 1-Japan nuclear minister speeds up Fukushima cleanup (Reuters, June 21, 2012):

* Fukushima fuel removal to start year ahead of schedule

* Fuel rods in cooling pool have fanned safety worries

* Government eyes public training facility for nuclear
engineers

TOKYO, June 21 (Reuters) – Workers at the crippled Fukushima
nuclear plant will begin removing fuel rods from a damaged
reactors a year ahead of schedule, a government minister said
Thursday, a move to address concerns about the risk of a new
quake that could cause a further accident and scatter more
radioactive debris.

“We would like to start taking out undamaged fuel this year.
Preparation is now under way,” Japan’s nuclear crisis minister,
Goshi Hosono, told Reuters in an interview.

“Doing it quickly is important. But we also have to make
sure those workers out there, who are struggling under harsh
conditions, will not be endangered by trying to move things
fast.”

Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), operator of the
plant hit by the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl
in 1986, had said in April it aimed to begin removing the fuel
rods from the No. 4 reactor at the end of next year.

That would have left large quantities of radioactive fuel
rods outside the protection of strong containment vessels for
two and a half years after the accident.

Experts say the fuel rods, now covered only by water and a
white plastic tarp, could present a risk of a knock-on accident
if the reactor building collapsed or the water supply used to
keep the rods cool were disrupted by another earthquake.

Some 1,535 fuel assemblies — enough uranium fuel rods to
power three reactors — are being stored in a pool atop the
mangled No. 4 reactor building. The reactor, which was shut down
for maintenance at the time of the March 2011 earthquake and
tsunami, was badly damaged by a series of powerful explosions
that followed the disaster as power was cut off to the plant.

Hosono said last month during a visit to the Fukushima plant
that he expected workers to begin removing fuel from the No.4
reactor’s storage pool next year.

Work began in April to raise what amounts to a giant tent
over the building to keep radioactive dust from scattering
during the transport of the fuel rods.

Tepco says its analysis shows the No.4 reactor building
would hold up in a strong earthquake. But Japanese safety
regulators ordered Tepco to recheck its findings last month
after measurements showed one of the walls of the reactor
building was buckling out by about 3 centimetres (1.2 inches).

The removed uranium fuel rods will be placed in another
storage pool at the Fukushima plant, 240 km (150 miles)
northeast of Tokyo, officials have said.

LONG PROCESS OF DECOMMISIONING

Hosono also said Tokyo was considering setting up a training
facility for nuclear workers, including engineers, to secure
specialists for the long process of decommissioning the
Fukushima plant and cleaning up radioactive debris.

“It will be 10 years, 20 years, probably even more before
decommissioning is complete,” Hosono said. “The task will not be
sustainable unless we train the next-generation of talent, and
the generation after that.”

He added: “The government is looking into establishing a
place for bringing up such talents. When it comes to a location,
Fukushima would make an excellent training ground.”

The disaster in Fukushima heightened public concerns about
nuclear safety, leaving Japan with no online reactors since May
after all 50 went off line for maintenance checks.

To avoid a summertime power shortage, Hosono, the prime
minister and two other ministers, earlier in June approved the
restart of two reactors in western Japan. They are expected to
be back online in July.

Hosono said that no other reactors will be restarted until a
new regulatory agency is set up by September.

Parliament approved a law on Wednesday for a more
independent regulatory body. The regulatory agency has up to now
been placed under the ministry that also promoted the use of
nuclear power, one key factor experts blame for the failure to
avert the Fukushima crisis.

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