January 30, 2017 5:55 pm JST

Possible nuclear fuel debris sighted under damaged Fukushima reactor

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The operator of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station on Monday found beneath the plant's No. 2 reactor what could be nuclear fuel debris left from the meltdown disaster in March 2011.

Images of a black mass and deposits were captured by a camera during an inspection of the reactor containment vessel in the morning and released in the afternoon by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.

If confirmed to be such debris, its sighting could shed light on the actual condition of melted fuel inside a damaged reactor for the first time.

"If melted nuclear fuel was captured, it would be a major step for the decommissioning work" at the plant, said Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, head of TEPCO's Fukushima arm.

The utility conducted the latest inspection using a remotely controlled camera attached to the end of a 10.5-meter-long telescopic arm and found the mass on a grating structure just beneath the pressure vessel inside the containment vessel.

The No. 2 reactor is one of three reactors at the six-reactor Fukushima Daiichi plant that suffered meltdowns after a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, knocked out their cooling functions.

The inspection is to prepare for a probe using a robot equipped with a camera. The robot will be deployed by mid-February to help inspectors better understand where the nuclear fuel debris is located and to work toward removing it.

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