Creepy drone footage from Fukushima shows how a nuclear reactor looks after meltdown

Creepy drone footage from Fukushima shows how a nuclear reactor looks after meltdown
  • Drones have provided a rare look inside a nuclear reactor after a meltdown.

  • The footage came days after the 13th anniversary of Fukushima's disastrous meltdown.

  • This provides useful clues to help with the plant's delicate decommission process.

A drone and a snake-like robot are providing clues into the devastation inside the wrecked reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The glimpse came 13 years after its 2011 meltdown that shook the world, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The drone was the first to capture the extent of the damage from inside the containment structure of reactor No.1, the hardest-hit of its six reactors.

Here is the video, via the Brazilian broadcaster Universo:

The footage demonstrates the magnitude of the task at hand. Reactors 1 to 3 have been particularly difficult to examine because of high levels of radioactivity and radioactive fuel leaks inside their containment chambers.

The damaged reactors still contain about 880 tons of highly radioactive melted nuclear fuel, which needs to be safely removed before they can be fully decommissioned, per AP.

A picture shows a drone floating above the surface thanks to four small fans.
The footage was snapped by a small, lightweight drone, assisted by a snake-like robotDaisuke Kojima/Kyodo News via AP

Previous attempts at seeing the heart of the reactors safely had failed.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, or TEPCO, designed a lightweight drone that could squeeze into the first floor of reactor No.1.

The hope was that it could help pinpoint the exact location of the fuel inside the damaged reactor containment chamber, which experts had before been unable to determine.

With this information, engineers could develop robots to safely remove the melted fuel — a process that could take another 10 years.

The drone headed to the first floor of the pedestal, the main support structure in reactor No.1, assisted by a snake-like robot that could shine light ahead of it. Photos of the footage were released by TEPCO Monday.

The footage suggests the reactor suffered excessive damage, per the Japanese public broadcaster NHK.

It showed a variety of objects dangling inside the chamber, which suggested that the reactor's rod mechanism, a safety system that automatically falls into the reactor to stop chain reactions, had been dislodged.

A grainy photo shows an array of corrugated metal joins and rods, barely visible in the low light of the footage.
This footage from the drone shows displaced material inside the No1. reactor.TEPCO via AP

Officials said it was not possible to know whether the rods in the picture were melted nuclear fuel or other damaged equipment. The drone did not carry instruments to measure radiation because it had to be light and nimble.

It was also unable to reach the bottom of the core, a setback due in part to the poor visibility.

An aerial shot shows the power plant from the sky.
Here's what the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant looks like now, per a shot taken in Fukushima, northern Japan, on Aug. 24, 2023.Kyodo News via AP

This just goes to show the snail's pace at which engineers need to go to safely look inside a nuclear reactor after a meltdown.

It has been just over 13 years since a massive earthquake and 130-foot tsunami devastated the Fukushima region of Japan. On March 11, 2011, as the tsunami wave flooded the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, three its six nuclear reactors were severely damaged.

While some radioactive material is thought to have been released into the air, no related deaths or radiation sickness were reported after the meltdowns.

Several hundred workers, though, were exposed to higher-than-normal radiation levels, per the World Nuclear Association. About 160,000 people were evacuated from their homes and were only allowed limited return from 2012, per the association.

TEPCO engineers have been struggling to make substantial progress on the way to Fukushima Daichii NPP's decommission, in part because of lack of data and technical hurdles, per AP.

As part of the cleanup, Japan last year started to release contaminated water that had previously been stored on the site. The water is being filtered into the ocean — experts believe its remaining radioactivity is too weak to damage nearby environments.

Critics say the projected timeline for the plant's cleanup set by TEPCO and the government — 30 to 40 years — is overly optimistic, per AP.

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