A peep into hell

01/20/2012
By


Ten months after the disaster, a first look inside the stricken Fukushima reactors

The interior of the number 2 reactor containment vessel at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The images were taken using an industrial endoscope. click to enlarge

TOKYO (majirox news) — Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) released the first pictures of the interior of the number 2 reactor containment vessel at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The images, taken on Jan. 19 using an industrial endoscope working on the same principle as those used for medical examinations, showed no apparent damage to piping. But it did show paintwork peeling, probably caused by the extreme temperature and humidity inside the vessel.

The images were blurred, partly as a result of the high humidity inside the vessel, and were also affected by visual noise, which may be due to the high level of radiation inside the vessel. This initial examination, taken some ten months after the disaster of March 11, 2001, is seen as a “first step” in checking the condition of the reactor. The development of technology to examine the state of the melted fuel is expected to take many more years.

One of the most significant findings of the recent inspection would to be the level of the water inside the vessel. TEPCO had believed, based on external instrumentation, that there was a 4.5-meter (15 ft) depth of water inside the vessel. But lowering the endoscope’s camera to a point where it would have been 50 cm (about 18 inches) under the surface, had the readings been correct, failed to reveal the water to TEPCO engineers. However, external readings and the readings taken inside the vessel both give temperatures well below the boiling point of water (around 45C, 113F).

“The most likely explanation for the lack of water is that water is leaking from the vessel through cracks in the concrete, and most probably finding its way into the ocean,” said Kevin Carroll, representative director of EA International (an environmental engineering consultancy based in Tokyo).

Even so, according to TEPCO spokesmen, the findings do not affect the current evaluation of the reactor’s status as being in “cold shutdown.”

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