Underwater robot probe continues inside Fukushima plant's reactor

An image from an underwater robot shows the lower part of a control rod drive inside reactor No. 3 at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma Fukushima prefecture

AN UNDERWATER robot has discovered lava-like rocks believed to be melted nuclear fuel inside Japan's stricken Fukushima reactor.

The operator of the nuclear power plant, hit by the 2011 nuclear disaster, announced the results of the third round of its probe into the containment vessel of the No. 3 reactor using an aquatic robot.

"There is a high possibility that the solidified objects are mixtures of melted metal and fuel that fell from the vessel", a TEPCO spokesman said.

The condition of fuel debris inside the damaged reactors remains unknown, even though six years have passed since a huge quake and subsequent tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster at the seaside plant.

The three-day probe ends on Saturday.

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Lake Barrett, a former official at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission who was involved in the cleanup at the Three Mile Island nuclear electricity plant in America, stressed o the importance of knowing the exact locations of the melted fuel to develop a defueling plan.

Similar to the latest findings in the No. 3 reactor, Tepco took photographs in January of what appeared to be black residue covering a grate under the Fukushima Dai-Ichi No. 2 reactor, which was speculated to have been melted fuel.

On Saturday, the machine went deeper near the bottom of the containment vessel. Part of the damaged reactors are still highly contaminated with radiation, and robots play a crucial role in cleaning them up.

Reactor cooling systems were crippled while units one to three all suffered fuel meltdowns in the world's worst nuclear catastrophe since the 1986 Chernobyl crisis. Meanwhile, Friday's investigation focused searching the area in detail before examining fuel debris inside the vessel. That search, however, failed to ascertain the condition of fuel debris.

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