The devastated outer layer of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant’s No. 1 reactor building has been exposed for the first time in almost five years in the painstaking reactor decommissioning process.
Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. began removing on Sept. 13 the exterior walls of the cover installed around the structure to prevent the dispersal of radioactive materials on Sept. 13.
Shortly past 6 a.m., a large crane began removing a massive piece of the cover installed around the reactor building. The panel dismantled that day measured 23 by 17 meters and weighed 20 tons.
The cover was installed in October 2011 as a temporary measure after a nuclear meltdown occurred following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March that year. The meltdown caused a hydrogen explosion, blowing the walls off the building.
Once the cover is dismantled, the operator can assess the state of the building’s interiors and remove the debris fallen onto the spent fuel pool inside.
“Steady progress is necessary in reconstruction, but we hope they will carry on the procedure with safety as the No. 1 priority,” said a Fukushima prefectural government official.
TEPCO said that it plans to remove the remaining 17 panels of the covering by the end of the year. The portion covering the roof has already been removed.
Once the cover is removed, the utility will begin drawing up plans to remove the 392 fuel assemblies from the spent fuel pool and melted nuclear fuel from inside the building.
The plant operator said that it plans to be extra careful during the procedure. It will shroud the building in tarpaulins once the cover is removed as a precautionary measure against dust and other materials containing radioactive materials from being carried aloft by the wind.
The utility and central government’s joint schedule for the decommissioning process of the reactor states that the removal of the fuel rods from the pool will start in fiscal 2020.