Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Fixing Fukushima

What happened to the nuclear fuel at Fukushima? To find out, Los Alamos scientists have created a new type of penetrating “vision” that can detect nuclear materials, such as uranium and plutonium, and probably the melted fuel rods inside the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
December 1, 2016
Fixing Fukushima

Sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan scrub the aircraft carrier’s flight deck to remove potential radiation contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown. The Ronald Reagan provided humanitarian assistance to Japan following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

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Before the process of fuel removal can begin, the exact status of the fuel must be known. How much has melted? Where is it?

On the afternoon of March 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake occurred off Japan’s northeast coast. About 50 minutes after the quake, a 45-foot-high tsunami slammed into the Japanese coastline. More than 18,000 people were killed, 300,000 were evacuated, and entire communities were destroyed.

And as if two natural disasters in less than an hour weren’t devastating enough, the quake initiated the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A plan for locating and removing the melted fuel is just now coming to fruition—thanks to a technology developed by Los Alamos scientists.

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