” NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture–The Japan Atomic Energy Agency officially christened its new facility here on Oct. 19 that will develop technologies to decommission the reactors at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The Naraha Remote Technology Development Center will conduct research to develop remote-control decommissioning technologies as radiation levels within the reactors remain too high for workers to enter following a triple meltdown in the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
The opening ceremony was attended by 105 people, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, science and technology minister Hiroshi Hase and Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori.
“The decommissioning process is a lengthy one that will take up to 40 years,” Abe said. “This facility was set up to consolidate the world’s knowledge to face the unknown.”
Featuring a life-sized mock-up of a damaged reactor and virtual reality systems, the center will test new machines and methods to remotely remove nuclear fuel from the Fukushima plant.
Experts hope that research and development at the facility will lead to a reduction in the number of failures of devices deployed at the crippled plant.
Abe witnessed a demonstration of a new scorpion-shaped robot, which will eventually be deployed inside the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima plant.
The Naraha center will also erect in March a life-sized model of a reactor suppression chamber located beneath the containment vessel that was damaged in the 2011 disaster. Because the containment vessel has to be filled with water to remove the melted fuel inside, researchers plan to first develop technology to patch up the container to prevent leaks.
The facility is also equipped with a virtual reality system that projects onto a screen a computer-generated world simulating the space inside the damaged reactor buildings. The interior layouts of the crippled buildings are based on data collected by remote control robots deployed at the plant.
The technology will devise routes in removing melted fuel, along with coming up with methods to minimize the amount of radiation that workers will be exposed to.
The JAEA is also setting up a facility in Okuma to monitor the amount of radioactive materials inside the plant grounds. A total of 85 billion yen ($711.4 million) will be used to build the two JAEA facilities.
“There are still 100,000 people evacuated from the disaster,” said Toshio Kodama, JAEA president. “We hope to fulfill the role the JAEA is meant to play in the decommissioning process.” ”