First look inside tsunami-hit nuclear reactor reveals radiation, rusty metal

By Mari Yamaguchi, AP

TOKYO — The first look inside one of Japan’s tsunami-hit nuclear reactors showed radiation, steam and rusty metal surfaces scarred by 10 months of exposure to high temperatures and humidity. The steam-blurred photos taken by remote control Thursday found none of the reactor’s melted fuel but confirmed stable reactor temperature and showed no major damage or ruptures caused by the earthquake last March, said Junichi Matsumoto, spokesman for the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

TEPCO workers inserted the endoscope — an industrial version of the kind of endoscope doctors use –through a hole in the beaker-shaped containment vessel at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant’s No. 2 reactor, hoping the first look inside since the crisis would help them better assess reactor conditions and make repairs. Results of the 70-minute operation were mixed. Some parts that were photographed were not identifiable, and experts are still trying to identify what the photos show, Matsumoto said. Radiation was apparent as it interfered with the electronic device and was visible as static on the images. The photos also showed inner wall of the container heavily deteriorated after 10 months of exposure to high temperature and humidity, he said. “Given the harsh environment that we had to operate, we did quite well. It’s a first step,” Matsumoto said. “But we could not spot any signs of fuel, unfortunately.” He said it would take more time and a better technology to get to the melted fuel, most of which has fallen straight down into the area that the endoscope could not reach. TEPCO hopes to use the endoscope to look inside the two other reactors that had meltdowns. Better assessment will help workers know how best to plug holes and cracks in the containment vessel — a protective chamber outside the core — to contain radiation leaks. Three of six reactors at the Fukushima plant melted down after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The probe Thursday successfully recorded the temperature inside the containment vessel at 44.7 Celsius degrees (112 Fahrenheit), confirming it stayed below the boiling point and qualifying a “cold shutdown state,” the stable condition that the government had declared in December. The probe failed to find the water surface, which indicates the water sits at lower-than-expected levels inside the primary containment vessel and questions the accuracy of the current water monitors, Matsumoto said.