Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) will deliberately send a nuclear fuel rod into meltdown after April this year in a bid to learn more about the events leading up to the Fukushima disaster of March 2011.
The experiment will take place at the Nuclear Safety Research Reactor in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, in order to give investigators a better idea of exactly how and when meltdown occurred at the stricken plant.
“We’d like to find out what phenomena occurred in the accident and use the data to work out responses in the event of another nuclear power plant accident,” a JAEA official told the Yomiuri Shimbun.
The citizens of Ibaraki-ken have a right to be a little nervous, although the experiment will be conducted on a much smaller scale.
A single 30-centimeter-long fuel rod will be used instead of the tens of thousands of 4.5-meter-long rods used at Fukushima, with fission predicted to cease shortly after the controlled meltdown.
The whole process will be filmed to observe exactly how the rod melts once it has reached 2,000 degrees centigrade, with other data including temperature and pressure also monitored. Once the fuel has solidified it will then be analysed by JAEA boffins.
When reactors 1, 2 and 3 went into meltdown following the catastrophic Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 11 March 2011, a total power blackout meant Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) officials were apparently unable to collect vital data on temperature and water levels in each reactor.
As a result it’s still unknown exactly how and when the rods went into meltdown – a calculation made more difficult apparently because the various materials used to build the rods have different melting points.
“Results of the experiment will help us better predict the effectiveness of measures to deal with a nuclear accident, such as an emergency injection of water into a reactor,” the JAEA official added.
“There are no safety problems with the experiment itself.” ®