(NaturalNews) Cleanup efforts at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility were taken up a notch recently, as crews began hauling the spent fuel rods out of the infamous Reactor 4, which sustained terminal damage when the tsunami struck it back in 2011. But this is just the beginning of a massive remediation effort at the site, which experts say could take many decades to complete due to the catastrophic destruction caused by the massive earthquake and storm surge.
After many months of planning, workers have begun carefully removing each of the 1,533 fuel assemblies still sitting in the damaged cooling pool at Reactor 4 nearly three years after the disaster. Each of the assemblies measure roughly four meters in length, according to reports, and individually contain as many as 80 separate fuel rods, which means that there could be as many as 122,000 spent fuel rods in total that need to be vacated from the reactor.
According to the U.K.'s Guardian, a team of 36 workers is currently handling the project, which will involve work taking place at the reactor continually around the clock in six separate shifts. If all goes according to plan, every single spent fuel rod from Reactor 4 will be gone from the pool by the end of 2014, say authorities, who at the same time acknowledge that snags are likely to turn up along the way.
But these are just the fuel rods in Unit 4 -- there are at least three other reactors at the facility with their own spent fuel rods that will eventually have to be addressed as well. And then there is the issue of the melted reactor cores, which still have to be dug out from inside the damaged reactors. The removal of the spent fuel rods is just the tip of the iceberg, in other words, as there is still plenty of work that needs to be done elsewhere at the facility.
"To fully decommission Fukushima Daiichi might take 40 years and no one expects a cakewalk," writes Ian Sample for The Guardian about the complexity of the situation.
TEPCO needs to bring in outside help to remediate Fukushima, say experts
One of the reasons for this is that both the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which operates the Fukushima facility, and the Japanese government have been reluctant to call in outside help to remediate the damage. With all the problems that have occurred thus far, many are wondering why this is the case, noting that the situation is "unprecedented" in terms of the challenges required to fix it.
"With the sheer number of things that are going wrong, they should be more openly bringing in help," says Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.
"TEPCO is a nuclear power producer, not a cleanup operation. There are people with expertise in decommissioning reactors, and they need to be brought in whether they are Japanese, European or American. Every time they have a problem, they come up with a solution that takes a long time to bring in, and then doesn't even solve the problem."
John Large, a U.K.-based nuclear consultant, agrees. He told reporters that TEPCO needs to actively seek outside help, particularly from the International Atomic Energy Agency which has the capacity and know-how to bring in a fresh team of engineers and other experts to advise on a fresh plan of action.
"They need to be told: 'Forget the fact that you design these reactors, right now we need your expertise,'" he adds.