What is believed to be nuclear fuel debris scattered inside a reactor of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant can be clearly seen in video footage released by Tokyo Electric Power Co. on July 24. While the Fukushima disaster didn't release as much radiation as the Chernobyl disaster, if Little Sunfish has found what is essentially an underwater Elephant's Foot, just how will TEPCO decommission it? But the rods melted into a puddle and burned through its bottom once the plant lost power after being swamped by the monstrous tsunami of March 11, 2011.
The debris still needs to be analysed, but if confirmed, it could mark the first discovery of fuel that melted the triple reactor meltdown. Technicians surmise that the melted fuel also melted its casing and other metal inside the reactor, all of which reformed as solids when it cooled.
Tepco spokesman Takahiro Kimoto told the Japan Times that video taken by the robot over three days shows clumps of what is likely to be melted fuel.
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Finding the highly radioactive melted fuel rods may pave the way for Tepco to develop methods to remove the melted fuel. Scientists can not explore or examine these contaminated areas without having every cell in their body hemorrhage after ten minutes (yes, seriously), which is where robots such as "Little Sunfish" come in.
"We have already developed remotely operated robots for inspections at Fukushima", said Goro Yanase, General Manager of Toshiba's Nuclear Energy Systems and Services Division in a statement. "But it's a big step forward". The cores of three of the plant's six reactors were damaged by overheating, and the resulting hydrogen explosions blew apart the buildings surrounding two of the reactors.
Despite the Fukushima nuclear disaster beginning all the way back in 2011, there hasn't until now been any direct imaging of what's happened to the nuclear fuel rods in the reactors that experienced a meltdown - owing to the extremely high radiation levels in the areas in question, which destroyed numerous robots that were sent in.
As the camera-equipped submersible robot advanced toward the bottom of the containment vessel, it captured how pipes and structures had collapsed in a heap.