How to Tear Down a Nuclear Power Plant [Slide Show]

What happens to nuclear reactors like those at Fukushima after they melt down or reach the end of their useful lives?

By David Biello

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On March 11, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake spawned a 14-meter-tall tsunami that swept over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on the northeast coast of Honshu, Japan's main island. As a result of the loss of electric power, all three of the operating reactors began to melt down, setting off hydrogen explosions at reactor Nos.....[ More ]


As the tsunami hit, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was already shutting down as a result of safety precautions triggered by the earthquake.....[ More ]


The 14-meter-high wall of water easily overtopped the nuclear power plant's seawall and flooded access roads as well as swept away fuel tanks for backup diesel generators. As a result, the reactors ran out of power to run the pumps that supplied cooling water to cover the hot nuclear fuel rods.....[ More ]


Not only did the fuel in the operating reactors begin to melt down, but so did spent fuel stored in nearby pools. Such a pool sparked a hydrogen explosion at the plant's reactor No. 4, which had not been operating when the earthquake struck, and destroyed the building as shown here.....[ More ]


As a result of the explosions at the three operating reactors, radiation levels spiked, forcing the evacuation of control rooms at the nuclear power plant, like the one for reactor No. 2 pictured here.....[ More ]


In order to protect workers from high levels of radiation, various forms of plastic shielding and special breathing apparatus are required (pictured). Regardless, it will be nearly impossible for workers to get close to the melted down reactors, given that Tokyo Electric Power has measured radiation exposure levels as high as 300 millisieverts per hour in some places in the stricken nuclear power plant—or 50 millisieverts more than plant workers are allowed to endure over an entire year.....[ More ]


The first priority in getting the Fukushima meltdown under control is applying cooling water to the hot nuclear fuel. Here workers employ a tall pumping crane (more commonly used to pump concrete into the upper stories of tall buildings under construction) to spray water onto the hot fuel.....[ More ]


The water that is not simply released into the atmosphere as steam or dumped in the ocean is stored in these big tanks, awaiting filtration and cleanup.....[ More ]


Once the nuclear fuel is cool, workers will attempt to tear down the stricken nuclear power plant using remote-controlled heavy machinery like the power shovel and dump truck on tank treads pictured here.....[ More ]


Because of the high radiation levels around the plant, even the cleanup of the detritus from the tsunami must be done remotely (pictured), and workers must wear full protective gear, including breathing apparatus.....[ More ]


To get a better idea of radiation levels and damage in places that humans cannot go, robots with radiation hardened electronics have been used, like the PackBot pictured here opening a door at Fukushima Daiichi.....[ More ]


Because the fuel rod meltdowns were not entirely contained, radioactive particles, such as cesium 137, have escaped into the surrounding environment, including towns as far as 30 kilometers away. Here workers spray plastic on the ground in an attempt to encapsulate the particles and prevent them from spreading.....[ More ]


Ultimately, years later, spent fuel rods that have not melted down can be shifted into massive casks, like the one pictured here, for semipermanent storage. Japan has no long-term repository for such spent fuel, relying on on-site storage, although it has opened a facility to recycle such spent fuel at Rokkasho in the far north of Honshu.....[ More ]

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