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Watch this: Fukushima engineers perform risky extraction of nuclear fuel rods

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Fukushima reactor control room, suit (Credit: TEPCO)
Fukushima reactor control room, suit (Credit: TEPCO)

A job at the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is notoriously dangerous: in the aftermath of a massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami, reports have emerged of low wages, steep risks, and shoddy management throwing the plant cleanup process into disarray and exacerbating onsite hazards. Now, some employees at Fukushima are encountering yet another precarious scenario, as they begin the gargantuan task of removing radioactive fuel rods from a cooling pool inside one of the plant's reactors.

As shown in the video above, the process of removing one assembly of fuel rods — of which more than 1,500 need to be extracted — is an incredibly slow one. Six teams of workers take turns to operate a specially designed crane that slowly lifts the assemblies from the pool, at a rate of less than half-an-inch per second. Each team can only work for two hours at a time, in an effort to minimize exposure to radiation. And a single misstep during the process, which is expected to take around a year, could have disastrous consequences: estimates posit that the pool containing the rods carries the radioactivity of 14,000 "Hiroshima-sized" atomic bombs, according to CBC News.