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TEPCO Prepares for Critical Periods of Fukushima Clean-up

2013-10-20
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

Workers at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan will soon begin one of the most important periods of the clean-up efforts. They will be removing the fuel rods from one of the worst-hit reactors. More than 1500 fuel rods sit in a damaged storage pool 30 meters above ground inside the reactor 4 building.

TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power company owns the nuclear power station. Critics say TEPCO should not be trusted to carry out the operation. However, TEPCO General Manager Masayuki Ono says the operation has been carefully planned.

He explains that because the reactor 4 building was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion, TEPCO had to rebuild the structure. This happened during the first year, the new building he says is stronger than the old one.

The hydrogen explosion left pieces of wreckage all over the inside of the pool. TEPCO's first job is to remove this debris. Then, workers will remove the fuel rods one by one, they will use a crane suspended above the building.

The fuel rods must not touch each other or break. Nuclear experts warn that any accidents could cause an explosion many times worse than the one in March 2011.

Mitsuhei Murata is Japan's former ambassador to Switzerland and an anti-nuclear activist. He notes the problems over the past 30 months - including radioactive water leaks - have raised questions about TEPCO' s ability to carry out this operation.

"The Unit 4 contains 10 times more Cesium-137 than Chernobyl. So in case the worst occurs, a total withdrawal [from the site] will be imposed, which means this can be considered as the beginning of the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet."

Japan has called on foreign expert to assist in the operation. Hironori Nakanishi is the Director-General for Energy Policy at the government's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

"The sole responsibility in managing the situation safely is still on TEPCO corporation. But still we are in the same boat and we have to support their activity. So in order to achieve that goal we asked the specialists all over the world, from United States, the UK, France, Russia and Ukraine."

Inspectors from Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority have approved TEPCO's planned operation to remove the fuel from Reactor 4. The process is expected to begin in November and to take up to 18 months to complete.

And that's the Technology Report from VOA Learning English.