Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Northern Japan have begun the process of removing fuel rods from the plant. There are 566 spent and unspent fuel rods in a cooling pool near reactor building number three, which was left undamaged after the earthquake and tsunami caused a major meltdown in 2011.

The rods are being removed by a remotely-operated crane, which will then place them in a protective cask for safety. The removal process takes place underwater to prevent further radiation leaks.

According to the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO), the operation to remove the rods will eventually be completed in March 2021. Initially, seven low-risk unspent rods will be removed before work intensifies to remove the higher-risk rods begins in June after the storage pool that will be used is inspected by the government.

The process of removing the rods was delayed for four years due to a series of equipment malfunctions and high-level radiation in the area.

On 14 April Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Fukushima for the first time in five years, and the nearby town of Okuma, which only has 3.5% of its pre-disaster population.

Abe said: “We have reaffirmed our commitment to work for the revival of Fukushima and north-eastern Japan.”

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By GlobalData

TEPCO tweeted: “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Fukushima Daiichi. After being given a tour the Prime Minister presented letters of gratitude to contractor employees, and said, ‘Let’s continue to work together until we have enabled Fukushima to completely recover.’”

In total there are 1,573 fuel rods spread throughout the facility, which had six boiling water reactors when it was in production.