TOKYO, April 15 (Xinhua) -- The operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Monday began removing nuclear fuel from a storage pool inside one of the damaged reactor buildings.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) said it is using newly-developed, remotely operated machines to remove the fuel from the No. 3 reactor's storage pool.
The operation marks the first time for the utility to remove fuel from any of the reactors that underwent core meltdowns in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami disaster that ravaged the plant in March 2011.
The four-year delay in removing the fuel has been attributed to TEPCO's inability to create the necessary devices for the job that can withstand the high levels of radiation inside the reactor buildings.
Previous devices have malfunctioned under the conditions.
TEPCO said it is planning to remove seven relatively low-risk unspent nuclear fuel rods from the rector's pool using remotely operated machines.
They will then be put in casks to be sealed by a crane, before they are moved to another storage pool located about 100 meters away, the utility said.
TEPCO said that from June the removal work will be stepped up and the more dangerous fuel rods will be tackled.
According to the utility, along with unspent fuel rods, 1,573 fuel rods remain inside the storage pools of the No. 1 to 3 reactor units.
The hydrogen explosions that occurred at the reactor buildings also caused nuclear debris to be dispersed on reactor buildings' floors, further complicating plans for the plant's overall decommissioning.
But, in 2014, TEPCO successfully removed nuclear fuel rods from the lower risk No. 4 reactor unit, which was not online and did not undergo a meltdown when the earthquake-triggered tsunami struck the plant in northeastern Japan eight years ago, knocking out its key cooling and backup systems.
The utility said that work to remove the fuel from the No. 3 reactor is slated to be completed by the end of March 2021.
The removal of fuel from the pools of the No. 1-2 units, however, is not scheduled to begin until fiscal 2023, the utility said.