Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) removed the first two nuclear fuel rods from the damaged Fukushima power plant on Wednesday. A necessary step in reducing the risk of more radiation being released into the environment, all 1,535 rods in a spent-fuel pool need to be removed and taken somewhere for safer storage, which TEPCO doesn’t expect to complete until the end of 2013. The primary concern is over the large amount of radioactive material that remains in the pool, where it is not protected inside thick containing walls like fuel inside the reactor cores are.
Now that almost a year and a half has passed since last year’s nuclear crisis, the cooling system for the pool has been repaired, and the containment has been strengthened. However, TEPCO has admitted recently that one of the building’s walls has started to bulge, but the pool itself isn’t tilting so it hasn’t caused any damage at this time. Tama University’s Hiroshi Tasaka, a professor and nuclear engineer, says the government’s goal of removing all the fuel rods by the end of next year seems a bit optimistic. There are many unknowns, as well as a need to develop new technology.
Takasa adds that the greatest threat at this point is if a strong aftershock were to hit the building, it is not secure enough to prevent more radiation from leaking. Thousands of aftershocks have occurred in the region, with several in the last few months alone measuring at magnitude 6 or higher. The engineer says that everyone must hope for the best, but it is not right to think that everything is safe right now. No one knows what will happen in the case of another significant earthquake.