Operators of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant have said they will further delay the start of the removal of highly radioactive molten fuel from the damaged reactor due to delays in the development of a remote-controlled robotic arm.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) initially decided to begin removing molten fuel from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit 2 reactor last year, ten years after the March 11, 2011 mega-earthquake and tsunami disaster. I was planning.

Tepco said its plans have been postponed until later this year and further until around fall next year as additional work will be required to improve the performance of the robot arm.

Developed jointly by Britain’s Veolia Nuclear Solutions and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the giant arm has been shipped to Japan and is being calibrated at a test facility south of the Fukushima plant.

Nuclear waste stored at Fukushima NPP (Alam/PA)

Tepco said the delay will not affect decommissioning of the entire plant, which is expected to take 30 to 40 years. Experts say the completion target is too optimistic.

During the accident, an estimated 880 tons of highly radioactive nuclear fuel in the three damaged reactors melted and fell to the bottom of the containment vessels, where it hardened and likely mixed with the broken parts of the reactors and the concrete foundation. high. Its removal is the most difficult task in the decommissioning process.

In recent years, TEPCO has been promoting the evaluation of the state of fuel inside the reactor by sending a remote-controlled robot into the containment vessel. But the data and images provided by the spacecraft are still partial, and experts say it’s too early to imagine when or how the decontamination will end.

Due to the continuing need to cool the fuel remaining in the reactor, large amounts of treated but still radioactive spent cooling water are stored in approximately 1,000 tanks on the plant site. increase.

The government has announced plans to release the stored water into the sea after further processing and dilution in spring 2023, but it has been strongly opposed by local residents, fishing communities and neighboring countries.

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