Nov. 18 (UPI) -- Japan electric utility provider Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has completed day one of its year-long plan to remove spent fuel rods from the Unit 4 of the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The move marks an important step toward decommissioning the site, which the company said could take 30 years. After lengthy safety preparations, Tepco has removed 4 of the 22 fuel assemblies, each of which holds some 60 to 80 rods, and placed them in a cask.
Tepco President Naomi Hirose said that this task is "an important milestone in our work at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station," and that today's "extraction process represents the beginning of a new and important chapter in our work."
After being filled with all the fuel assemblies the cask will be closed and following decontamination will be transported to a common spent fuel pool.
It is expected to take approximately one week from placing the fuel into the cask at the spent fuel pool to storing it in the common pool. The entire removal of all fuel inside the Unit 4 spent fuel pool is planned to take until the end of 2014.
The plant has had multiple meltdowns and explosions since Japan's northeast coast was hit by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
But anti-nuclear campaigners have voiced concern over Tepco's ability to complete the work without incident following revelations that up to 300 tonnes of radioactive water are leaking from the site into the sea every day.