TOKYO — The operator of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant for the first time is removing fuel from a cooling pool at one of three reactors that melted down in the 2011 disaster, a milestone in the decadeslong process to decommission the plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday workers started removing the first of 566 fuel units stored in the pool at Unit 3. The fuel units in the pool are not enclosed and their removal to safer ground is crucial to avoid disaster in case of another major quake.

TEPCO said the removal at Unit 3 would take two years, followed by the two other reactors.


The step comes ahead of the real challenge of removing melted fuel from inside the reactors, but details are largely unknown.

The meltdown at three of Fukushima Daiichi’s reactors was caused by a tsunami that followed an earthquake off Japan in March 2011. The twin disasters killed more than 20,000 people.

The nuclear accident forced 160,000 people to flee. The first few residents of nearby Okuma, once a city of 10,341 residents, began returning to their homes earlier this month.

Associated Press