Five years after the Fukushima tragedy, TEPCO's chief of decommissioning Naohiro Masuda admits that the company still has no idea exactly where 600 tons of melted radioactive fuel from three nuclear reactors is located.
As we discussed when we profiled the status of Fukushima on its five year anniversary, the radiation at the plant is still so powerful that it is impossible to get deep enough into the area to find and remove the melted fuel rods. The situation is so severe that even the robots that were sent in to find the highly radioactive fuel have died.
Masuda went on to say that the company still hopes to locate and remove the missing fuel, but the fuel extraction technology is yet to be determined - that assumes they are able to locate it of course.
"It's important to find it as soon as possible. Once we can find out the condition of the melted fuel and identify its location, I believe we can develop the necessary tools to retrieve it." said Masuda.
Of course, this is easier said than done as everyone knows - as RT points out, if the radioactivity flux killed the robots that were sent in to find the material, human exploration is obviously out of the question. The first major hurdle in this effort is to first locate the material, let alone be able to find a way to extract it.
As a reminder, when the 2011 tsunami caused the meltdown, uranium fuel of three power generating reactors gained critical temperature and burnt through the respective reactor pressure vessels, concentrating somewhere on the lower levels of the station that is currently filled with water.
The company's decommission plan implies a 30-40 year period before the consequences of the meltdown are fully eliminated, however experts are skeptical that the technology is sufficient enough right now to deal with the task.
Given the fact that nobody knows where the radioactive fuel is at this point, it may be a possibility that it's left there.
“It may be possible that we're never able to remove the fuel. You may just have to wind up leaving it there and somehow entomb it as it is,” said Jaczko, who headed the USNRC at the time of the Fukushima disaster.
As RT explains, melted fuel rods and tons and tons of radioactive water aren't the only issues facing TEPCO's clean-up effort - there is also some 10 million plastic bags full of contaminated soil concentrated in gigantic waste dumps scattered around the devastated nuclear facility.
There is also the cost of the clean up, although given the fact that the BOJ will monetize everything it's much less of an issue. At the time of the disaster the government said it was paying TEPCO $70 billion to enable the company to accomplish its decommissioning - and that number would likely be more than $240 billion over a 40 year time frame.
To give context to the extend of the disaster, here is an eerie video of the area taken by a drone. We can only hope things are able to improve in the efforts to finally get this disaster taken care of.