One of the several fearless robots to make one-way trips into Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant's severely damaged reactors has accomplished what its less fortunate compatriots did not, sending back photos of what appears to be melted nuclear fuel from the interior of the ruined facility.
If confirmed, these pictures would be the first discovery of the fuel that melted during the triple reactor accident at Fukushima six years ago. According to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.
Knowing the exact status of the radioactive fuel rods is essential to handling and removing them. The fuel, during meltdown, also likely melted its casing and other metal structures inside the reactor, forming rocks as it cooled. "The recent investigation results are significant early signs of progress on the long road ahead". (TEPCO), the company's robot was able to discover "large amounts" of solidified lava, with thickness estimated to be around the three-foot (one-meter) mark.
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Reactor cooling systems were crippled while units one to three all suffered fuel meltdowns in the world's worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis. According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry, decommissioning the reactors will cost almost 8 trillion yen or US$72 billion.
Similar to the latest findings in the No. 3 reactor, Tepco took photographs in January of what appeared to be black residue covering a grate under the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 2 reactor, which was speculated to have been melted fuel.
Locating and analysing the fuel debris and damage in each of the plant's three wrecked reactors is crucial for decommissioning the plant. That search, however, failed to ascertain the condition of fuel debris.