At Fukushima Nuclear Plant: Removing fuel rods


by David Safier

Another of my semi-regular updates about the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, since the story isn't picked up in the local news.

In March, 2011, a tsunami crippled the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and it's pretty much the same mess today it was then, except that millions of gallons of radioactive water have leaked in the meanwhile. And earthquakes keep shaking the ocean floor nearby. A 7.3 magnitude quake hit 230 miles away October 25.

So how are things progressing? Well, they're finally ready to begin moving fuel rods from where they've been submerged in one of the reactor sites to a more stable location. Lots of fuel rods. Best case scenario, they'll finish the move by the end of 2014.

Plant engineers will use a crane to lift the fuel assemblies from the pool and put them into giant casks of water. Each cask will be placed on a trailer and moved to a more secure pool at ground level.

“There are potentially very big risks involved,” Shunichi Tanaka, the head of Japan’s nuclear regulator, said last week. “Each assembly must be handled very carefully.”

This won't fix anything. If all goes well, it just means one contaminated, damaged reactor will be emptied of spent fuel rods and they'll be placed elsewhere. Two and a half years later, they're trying to take a baby step forward from the held-together-by-spit-glue-and-bailing-wire stage, which is where they still are. This is the real world of nuclear power, where everything's fine until it's not, and when something happens, first reaction is, "We had no idea that [fill in the blank] could happen," and the second reaction is, "What the hell do we do now?"