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The Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan was severely damaged by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 2011. Since then scientists have been battling with the damaged pant to keep the rectors cool and avoid a more serious incident.

Next month will see work beginning to remove the fuel rods from the damaged rector. This work will be the most technical and dangerous since the 2011 disaster. This year’s World Nuclear Report says the operations have the potential to cause: “by far the most serious radiological disaster to date” if it goes wrong. And warns of possible apocalyptic scenarios, including the evacuation of Tokyo.

The operations involve the removal of the spent fuel from one of the reactors. This reactor is in the most unstable condition, and scientists do not fully know the extent of damage within the reactor core. Since the disaster the reactor has had to be constantly cooled to stop a full meltdown of the plant. Every day gallons of irradiated water from this process escape the plant into the surrounding environment and into the Pacific Ocean. Once these fuel rods are removed, they will then begin work on removing the fuel rods from the other three reactors, which were also damaged. The whole process of decommissioning the site is likely to take 40 years.

Althoug the removal of fuel rods from a nuclear power station is a standard procedure the damaged Fukushima plant has so many dangers and unknowns it makes it a highly dangerous and technical procedure. Nuclear expert Professor Neil Hyatt says, “This is probably a world first in terms of the engineering challenge.”

Read More: Channel 4 News