Jacob Adelman & Masumi Suga
November 18, 2013
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)  successfully removed the first nuclear fuel rods today from a cooling pool at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, an early milestone in decommissioning the facility amid doubts about whether the rods had been damaged and posed a radiation risk.
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 just before 4 p.m., the utility known as Tepco said in an e-mailed statement.
Tepco planned to remove 22 assemblies from the pool, which contains 1,331 spent fuel assemblies and 202 unused assemblies, by the end of tomorrow, the company said. Crews are beginning with the unused assemblies because they are less fragile, spokesman Yusuke Kunikage said by phone.
The operation is the most significant test to date of Tepco’s ability to contain the threat stemming from the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Were the rods to break or overheat, it could prompt a self-sustained nuclear chain reaction  similar to the meltdowns at three Fukushima reactors following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.