via abcnews.com / March 27, 2015 / The cutting-edge technology was billed as a way to decipher where exactly the morass of nuclear fuel might sit at the bottom of reactors in the Japanese power plant that went into multiple meltdowns four years ago.
But what went wrong, even in a simple demonstration for reporters Friday for the 500 million yen ($5 million) project, was a sobering reminder of the enormous challenges that lie ahead for the decommissioning of Fukushima Dai-ichi.
Muons are cosmic-ray subatomic particles so tiny they go through almost anything except for so-called heavy elements like uranium and plutonium used for nuclear fuel. They can help present a picture of what’s inside an object, similar to the way doctors use X-rays, and have been used to study the Egyptian pyramids, the insides of volcanoes and ship cargo at ports.
The ideal scenario goes like this: Two giant walls more than two stories high will be set up right next to each reactor to shoot out muons so that data from how the muons scatter after hitting what’s inside, picked up by sensors, can be analyzed. Such image-mapping is possible because muons will bend at different angles, depending on the material they hit.
But a programming glitch could not be fixed in time for Friday’s demonstration at Toshiba’s research center, near Tokyo, to show any image, even a mock-up, from the muons.
All reporters got to see was the huge equipment, metal with lots of wiring and blinking little lights, in a giant garage-like building, and on its side, not straight up as it would be when put to use at the plant.
Experts have long said that what’s crucial for decommissioning is getting an image of the nuclear fuel after the March 2011 tsunami crippled backup generators at Fukushima Daiichi, setting off the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl.
No one knows where the molten fuel debris lies, and in what shape or state. Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates Fukushima Dai-ichi, has said it likely sank to the bottom of the plant. But the fuel could have dropped even beyond.
CONTINUE READING: ABC News