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Japan Technology

Fuel Rod Removal Operation Begins At Tsunami-hit Fukushima 101

Posted by samzenpus
from the slow-and-steady dept.
rtoz writes "TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has started removing fuel rods from a storage pond at the Unit 4 reactor building of Tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear power station in Japan. The first of the fuel-rod assemblies at the plant's No. 4 reactor building was transferred from an underwater rack on the fifth floor to a portable cask. This step is an early milestone in decommissioning the facility amid doubts about whether the rods had been damaged and posed a radiation risk. 22 unused fuels will be moved to the cask a task which is planned to be completed by November 19. After being filled with fuel, the cask will be closed with a lid, and following decontamination, will be taken down to ground level and transported to the common spent fuel pool on a trailer. It is planned to take approximately one week from placing the fuel into the cask at the spent fuel pool to storing it in the common pool. The entire removal of all fuel inside the Unit 4 spent fuel pool is planned to take until the end of 2014."
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Fuel Rod Removal Operation Begins At Tsunami-hit Fukushima

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  • Finally! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday November 18, 2013 @03:18PM (#45456707) Homepage

    Good. It's about time to get those fuel rods out of there.

    The US needs Yucca Mountain. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better to have fuel rods inside a mountain than at reactor sites. After all, Yucca Mountain is in an area so isolated that it used to be used for above-ground testing of nuclear weapons.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I propose we store the nuclear waste in Southern California, as it has less culture that Yucca Mountain, and is already contaminated with parasitic organisms.

    • Re:Finally! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bob_super (3391281) on Monday November 18, 2013 @03:29PM (#45456811)

      I'm still waiting for an announcement about some scientist "discovering" that subduction zones are a good place to bury stuff that you don't want to worry about seeing back up any time soon.

      • Although those subduction zones move about as fast as human fingernails grow.

      • by lgw (121541)

        Well, it would be cheap and easy just to dump spent fuel in the deep ocean, and while the hippies would have a cow, they're going to anyhow. We're saving the spent fuel because it's valuable. If we ever want to return to the 50,000 or so nukes we had at the peak of the cold war, we'll need it all.

        • by umghhh (965931)
          as for ocean disposal of nuclear waste Russians or specifically Russian navy gave example how to do it. The savings would be enormous....
        • by tp1024 (2409684)

          There is a reason why there is a difference between "reactor grade" and "weapon grade" plutonium.

        • I think dumping that crap in the deep ocean is a monstrous idea, but if it would keep it away from the types who could contemplate returning to "the 50,000 or so nukes we had", then it might be the lesser of two evils.

          For what it's worth, Wikipedia says the U.S. built over 70,000 warheads, though it doesn't say how many were operational at any one time.
          • by lgw (121541)

            From memory, the peak was actually 50K world total at any one time, half ours. Now we're down to 2500 IIRC.

            I'm not sure that dumping spent fuel in particular in the deep ocean would actually be a problem (assuming you age it 5 or so years, then vitrify it, before transport, which should be done with any scheme). It's quite heavy, so it won't wander around, and no one's going to be harvesting it for nefarious purposes (or harvesting it using nefarious porpoises) if you dump it deep enough.

            • by Anonymous Coward

              ...and no one's going to be harvesting it for nefarious purposes (or harvesting it using nefarious porpoises) if you dump it deep enough.

              I wouldn't be so sure. There was a Russian sub that sank, K-219, and she came to rest about 6,000m down (18,000 feet).

              From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

              In 1988, the Soviet hydrographic research ship Keldysh positioned itself over the wreck of K-219, and found the submarine sitting upright on the sandy bottom. It had broken in two aft of the conning tower. Several missile silo hatches had be

              • by lgw (121541)

                Yeah, I don't see having the technology to work at 6km down without having the tech to make your own nukes. That was surely the US Navy's "research sub" built to tap undersea cables (which does actually do a lot of research these days).

      • Forgive me if my knowledge of earth science is lacking, but don't the chunks of crust that get subducted tend to turn to blobs of magma and eventually erupt from the adjacent volcanoes?

        I realize we're talking about geologic timescales here (and I'm not sure, but I think the half-life of the waste in question is a few orders of magnitude shorter), but we should probably do some quick arithmetic to make sure we're not creating (extra-)radioactive lava...

        • If you bury it two miles down the crust, by the time it gets subducted, melted, churned by lava currents, and potentially finds its way up a magma chamber (considering you wouldn't bury it in the subduction zone nearest active volcanoes), I don't think the original 50000 tons will be more than traces.
          Uranium is heavy, it won't be the first element to float to the top of the mantle. Most of the others will have decayed while being subducted.

          Considering that Mount St Helens blew about 3km3 of material (not al

        • My knowledge of earth science is also lacking. What bothers me is that by dumping spent fuel rods into subduction zones, we're effectively throwing away quite a large amount of fuel for newer reactors. I realise that U and Th aren't exactly hard to come by, relatively speaking, but is it really easier to dig it out of the ground than to reprocess what we already have on hand?
          • by Immerman (2627577)

            Apparently so. When we first started making reactors reprocessing was the norm due to the high cost of fresh fuel. Advances in uranium mining and refinement brought the price down dramatically, to the point where the reprocessing plants already in existence were no longer cost effective to operate. Lets hear it for externalizing the cost of nuclear waste disposal.

    • Reprocessing (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Shakrai (717556) *

      Nuclear reprocessing [wikipedia.org]. Perfectly feasible, routinely performed in other countries, disallowed in the United States for purely political reasons.

      Another great legacy of Jimmy Carter, one that's particularly ironic given his qualification in nuclear submarines, and the fact that he regarded Hyman Rickover as one of the people that most shaped his life.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Things have changed a lot since Carter was president. Any president can reverse it at the stroke of a pen. I really wonder why it hasn't been reversed since it's a bit late to close the door on proliferation now.

        • Re:Reprocessing (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nojayuk (567177) on Monday November 18, 2013 @06:08PM (#45458353)

          Reagan reversed the ban Carter imposed on commercial reprocessing of spent fuel in the US in the early 80s. Nobody has funded a reprocessing operation (other than the lines used to produce weapons-grade materials from military breeder reactors) in the US for various reasons; raw uranium is cheap, nobody wants to use MOX fuel for cost and operating licence reasons and the US government is in charge of making spent fuel go away for which the generating companies pay a levy, currently over $30 billion dollars over the past few decades (it's what paid for Yucca Mountain).

      • Re:Reprocessing (Score:5, Insightful)

        by MrL0G1C (867445) on Monday November 18, 2013 @06:15PM (#45458421) Journal

        disallowed in the United States for purely political reasons.

        From that which you linked:

        In March 1999, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reversed its policy and signed a contract with a consortium of Duke Energy, COGEMA, and Stone & Webster (DCS) to design and operate a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabrication facility. Site preparation at the Savannah River Site (South Carolina) began in October 2005.[11] In 2011 the New York Times reported "...11 years after the government awarded a construction contract, the cost of the project has soared to nearly $5 billion. The vast concrete and steel structure is a half-finished hulk, and the government has yet to find a single customer, despite offers of lucrative subsidies." TVA (currently the most likely customer) said in April 2011 that it would delay a decision until it could see how MOX fuel performed in the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi.[12]

        Sounds like no-one's interested because it's prohibitively expensive even with big subsidies from the Gov't.

        • by nojayuk (567177)

          Reprocessing and MOX manufacture is expensive, a lot pricier than using cheap freshly-mined uranium ore in a once-through operation. The big win with reprocessing is that it vastly reduces the mass and volume of dangerous waste needing dealt with, even after vitrification and encapsulation. That makes final disposal a lot cheaper and simpler as well as reducing proliferation worries since none of the resulting waste is at all suitable for nuclear weapons development.

        • by Xolotl (675282)
          Pretty much every other nuclear country reprocesses, either themselves or by sending it to be reprocessed. It's only in the US that very little fuel is reprocessed (some is).
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Isn't the irony that you in your "Go nukes!" mood are passing judgment on Carter who actually worked on cleaning up the 1952 spill at Chalk River, while you have made no such contribution to society?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Won't be an option until the hosting state's senator is no longer majority leader

    • by gweihir (88907)

      Lets hope they make it before the next major quake. Losing Japan would be a terrible tragedy.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      Yeah... Unfortunately Japan doesn't have anywhere to store them long term yet either.

  • Anyone else feels that any mistake would be like playing a giant underwater Mikado [wikipedia.org]?

  • And then? And then? (Score:5, Informative)

    by stevegee58 (1179505) on Monday November 18, 2013 @03:27PM (#45456777) Journal
    They keep saying "first we'll do this and then we'll do that" with the spent fuel.
    But the one question no one seems able to answer is what you ultimately will do with all that toxic spent fuel. Simply speaking there is no answer, no plan for what to do with nuclear waste from any plant damaged or otherwise.
    • by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Monday November 18, 2013 @03:28PM (#45456799) Journal

      Leave it in an unlocked car in Lewisham. It'll be gone in an hour.

    • by Nrrqshrr (1879148)
      They will do what they always did. Bury it somewhere and pretend it never existed.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by HornWumpus (783565)

      No plan?

      You realize Obama didn't actually kill Yucca Mountain in any legal way. He just defunded it. The next sane president will restore it's funding without so much as consulting congress.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by doom (14564)

        At a guess, spent fuel from Fukushima isn't likely to end up in the US, and while re-opening Yucca Mountain would probably be okay (you guys know we have another similar salt-dome repository, solely used by the military, right?) I suspect that the present method is okay, too: stashing it in casks out in the parking lot of the reactor facilities.

        In any case, it would be really cool if you anti-nuclear guys would get over the notion that this stuff is somehow magically evil. It's a relatively small quanti

        • by nojayuk (567177) on Monday November 18, 2013 @06:22PM (#45458503)

          No-one takes in another country's nuclear waste, at least not spent fuel or reprocessed waste. Britain and France used to reprocess spent fuel from Japan but the recovered uranium and plutonium was reformatted into fresh fuel elements and they along with the waste from the reprocessing operation has been returned to Japan [sellafieldsites.com].

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by MrL0G1C (867445)

          it gets less poisonous while it's sitting around

          Yeah, quit bitching about Uranium fucking hippies, it's half-life is only 4.468 billion years and we can probably store this stuff without most of it leaking so STFU about it already.

    • by kriston (7886)

      Really? Of course the question has been answered. Yucca Mountain is politically dead right now but is the best engineered solution. Since the politics are so toxic around that problem, and we have an arbitrary national ban of reprocessing spent fuel due to a non-existent plutonium proliferation risk, we're now looking at salt mine encapsulation.

      So we're left with: unproven subduction zone dangers to back up an arbitrary political decision on Yucca, a bizzaro-world fuel reprocessing ban, and unproven salt

    • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

      what you ultimately will do with all that toxic spent fuel.

      Weaponize it. Which, incidentally, is why we can't have nice things like Thorium reactors.

    • Every feasible / scalable energy source we have has some kind of "undesirable" output.

      The options tend to be "output that you have to filter, scrub, and / or capture, and is completely useless" for non-nuclear sources. Nuclear has the benefit of delivering your "waste" already packaged, and its actually useable down the road.

      Not really seeing the problem. What to do with it? Stick it somewhere, reprocess it, etc. What do you do with the waste from coal?

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Geothermal is ideal for base load and has no "undesirable" output. Japan has vast untapped geothermal resources. Solar thermal collectors are also more or unless "undesirable" free and suitable for large scale base load.

        Wind and solar PV with sodium sulphur batteries are not bad either, as the batteries can be completely recycled.

        • Geothermal works in some places and IIRC all of the "suitable" places are being tapped already. If we could power the world on geothermal that would be wonderful, but reality intrudes.

          Solar thermal collectors are also great, except for the incredible amount of land they require, as does solar PV, which is why we dont power the world on it.

    • by khallow (566160)
      Simple answer: recycle the fuel and bury what you can't use.
    • by symbolset (646467) *
      eBay.
    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      Plenty of countries answer this all the time. [wikipedia.org]

      • by kriston (7886)

        We need to repeal the illogical and bizarre nuclear spent fuel reprocessing ban in the United States. We don't need Yucca, salt mines, or dry cast storage if we could just reprocess it.

        The rest of the world has already been doing this for decades. There's been no proliferation, since it's not possible. The only challenge is transportation, but hold on, the dangers of transportation are exactly the same whether the spent fuel is reprocessed or not. It still has to move to its destination: high-level wast

        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          I would be much more content with the transportation of a spent fuel rod than the frequent transportation of some other interesting things, like a 30 tonne isotainer of HF acid which will frequently make rounds wherever there are oil refineries. There's far more scary stuff out there than radiation, but we don't put a scary looking logo on it so people think it's ok.

          • by imikem (767509)

            But... well... RADIATION!!! Ohhh Noooees!!!11

            Seriously, people are stupid enough that they don't realize they are getting "more" radiation dosage from their home smoke detectors than from fission power plants and their spent fuel. Which is of course practically unmeasurable compared to natural background, plus whatever all the coal plants in the world are spewing out. Giant fucking thanks to China, Germany, and Japan for really jumping on the "clean energy" bandwagon in a big way.

            For what my opinion is wort

    • by nojayuk (567177)

      The Rokkasho reprocessing plant [wikipedia.org] started test operation about a year ago, based on a prototype reprocessing operation at Tokai. When it's up to speed Rokkasho will reprocess about 800 tonnes of spent fuel a year. Simply speaking you're totally wrong.

    • by sjames (1099)

      We have several good answers. The best IMHO is reprocess it so the 95% that is good nuclear fuel can be used to provide vast amounts of energy with no CO2. The remaining 5% will decay to a safe state in 200-500 years (depending on how safe you insist on) or we could further process it into useful isotopes for medical and industrial applications.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      simple:
      There are nuclear reactors that use the 'spent' fuel. The by products of those reactor return to background radiation level in 200-500 years depending on what the original source was. 500 year?

  • I realize this is hindsight but maybe the Ring of Fire isn't the best place to build nuclear reactors? Not that the Japanese have much option there if they want nuclear power.

  • ...1512 to go. Watching this from my armchair on the west coast of North America, I can't help but feel extremely nervous about all this.
    • by umdesch4 (3036737)
      Sorry, that should be 1532, the numbers have changed since they first announced they were doing this. I guess they miscounted initially. Now they're up to 1331 spent and 202 unused, depending on who's numbers you're reading.
      • by MiniMike (234881)

        Sorry, that should be 1532, the numbers have changed since they first announced they were doing this. I guess they miscounted initially.

        Or maybe they just broke a few, and now they count them as two. By the time they're done, they'll claim to have removed 1752.8 fuel rods.

    • by khallow (566160)

      I can't help but feel extremely nervous about all this.

      Why? It's just moving rods of metal around. Believe it or not, that is a solved problem.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      The only think you should be doing is finding a drift partner...

  • by bobbied (2522392) on Monday November 18, 2013 @03:48PM (#45456991)

    They are just starting to move fuel assemblies which where removed from their reactors prior to the earthquake. Where it will be a good thing to get these things out of the leaky cooling pools the real work has still not started. It's not really going to be possible to start working on the reactors which melted down for a few more years. Even then, it won't be possible for humans to approach so the work will require invention of remotely operated tools that can deal with the unique situation, and tasks necessary to clean up this mess.

    It took 14 years to decommission Three Mile Island after the accident there which was exceedingly less complicated because the containment structures where not blown open and there was only one reactor involved. We are decades away from being done here with multiple reactors at least partially melted down, sea water being used for coolant and the extensive damage to the containment structures.

    This is a great start, but until they get all of the high level material into an inherently stable condition and/or offsite we won't be able to breath easy. Keep it going TEPCO."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Correction: They are just starting to remove fresh, un-used/un-irradiated fuel bundles. These are almost pure uranium with so low radiation under normal circumstances they are handled with thin rubber gloves (that blocks alpha). About only way to scew up with them is to drop them from a height over something else. They're leaving the harder stuff - the freshly unloaded reactor core - last, so this theater will be lasting for around a year until things get really "hot". With luck they'll get to drum it up as

  • by Timothy Chu (2263) on Monday November 18, 2013 @04:12PM (#45457209) Homepage

    "I'm sure that in 1985, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955, it's a little hard to come by."

    - Doc Brown

  • by swschrad (312009) on Monday November 18, 2013 @05:53PM (#45458201) Homepage Journal

    I didn't see the expected statement that these idiots will parade the hot rods through downtown Tokyo to reassure everybody they have the situation well under control.

  • by IonOtter (629215) on Monday November 18, 2013 @09:25PM (#45459777) Homepage

    Hang on a moment, unused rods are non-radiating. They're *ready* to start working, but they won't start radiating until they're brought together in a core. That's called "criticality", or "going critical", which is a self-sustaining reaction.

    Prior to core insertion, unused rods are handled in open air, without any shielding, and can even be touched without a problem. You definitely don't want to bring them close to another fuel bundle, nor do you want them anywhere near a neutron reflector.

    That would be a Bad Thing.

    The only way this would be a threat, is if any of the debris in the storage pool damages the fuel bundles. Such as bending them and bringing the rods within criticality range of each other. Or if some stray metal got down inside the storage slots, acting as a neutron reflector and creating a hot-spot.

    Outside of that, unless I'm wrong about unused fuel not being hot, then this is just a scare story.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They are not quite "non-radiating", they obviously are a neutron source. Perhaps not a strong enough one to be very dangerous on their own, but far from non-radiating.

    • Yes. Now imagine 1500 used rods, totaling 250 metric tons of spent fuel, mixed with 200 brand new shiny unused ones, lying in a large pile of mikado in a damaged pool on bent supports 30 feet above the ground, partially cooled by seawater that is eating away the zirconium rod housing, and with the roof collapsed on top of it. What could possibly go wrong...?

    • Of course they are radiating. Otherwise "criticality" would not be possible. It just means that there is so much fissile material that a sufficient amount of neutrons released in a fission will cause another fission. Decay occurs in every radioactive isotope - they are named "radioactive" for a reason.

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