2012 Engineers install equipment that removes radioactive atoms migrating into underground water and seawater. The land must be repeatedly mapped for contamination because rain distributes the material unevenly in the soil. “It’s not a uniform distribution,” says Norman Kleiman, an environmental health sciences professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York. “We have potential hotspots of contamination here and there.” Irradiated soil is removed and stored in secure silos.
2014 Workers begin to remove debris using remotely controlled robots. Tokyo Electric has already purchased some industrial demolition robots to tear down irradiated buildings. Contractors extended the 4300-pound robots’ range, added video cameras, and hardened them against radiological contamination. “High fields of gamma radiation can cause plastics and electronic chips to degrade,” says Lake Barrett, who from 1980 to 1984 supervised the cleanup at Three Mile Island for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
2015 Workers use newly invented chemical sealants to plug holes in areas of the plant flooded with radioactive water. They drain the water from the reactor building and employ custom-made underwater robots to collect debris from inside the spent-fuel pools.
2016 A cover for the reactor building is installed to enclose the space. Additional video cameras monitor teleoperated work inside the reactor and turbine buildings, which are drained and repaired.
2022 Removal of the fuel rods from the damaged reactors begins. The rods have melted and fallen apart, complicating the cleanup.
2030 and Beyond The last of the fuel is removed from the reactor buildings. Demolition crews then dismantle the entire facility, a process that takes decades.