According to NHK (11/15/2013), TEPCO will start removing the fuel assemblies from the Spent Fuel Pool of Reactor 4 at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on Monday, November 18.
TEPCO will start with unused (therefore not irradiated) new fuel assemblies (there are 202 of them in the pool). 22 new fuel assemblies will be the first to be moved UNDER WATER into the container (called "cask") in the cask pit, using the fuel handling machine. Then the sealed cask will be lifted out of the pool by the gantry crane onto the truck waiting on the ground, which will transport the cask to the Common Pool about 100 meters away. TEPCO has two casks to be used for transport.
After removing 22 new fuel assemblies, then TEPCO will start removing the spent fuel assemblies. The removal is scheduled to continue until the end of next year, "ahead of schedule" as has been loudly demanded by the LDP politicians.
The fuel handling machine in the foreground, over the Spent Fuel Pool, and the gantry crane in the back, as workers conduct a dry-run on November 14 using mock fuel assemblies on the Reactor 4 operation floor (from TEPCO, 11/15/2013; click to enlarge; follow the link for more photos):
Workers who tweet from Fukushima I Nuke Plant say the people who will be operating the fuel handling machine and the gantry crane are the workers with long experience and expertise in fuel handling, from TEPCO's primary contractors. Not "yakuza and rank amateurs".
To disabuse some people, including scholars and experts (albeit in different fields, not related to nuclear energy or nuclear power plant technologies, or who simply have not followed the Fukushima nuclear accident much other than catching some soundbites), the following is NOT, I mean NOT, how the fuel assemblies will be removed. (I couldn't believe it at first, but there were many in Japan for example who thought the removal would be done exactly like this. Maybe they still do...)
First, we use a crane like this one (whose jib mast collapses after 1:35 into the video)...
And we will take out individual fuel "rods" (and not fuel assemblies) one by one, like this one being taken out of the fuel assembly (casing has been already removed)(from TEPCO, 8/28/2012):
And using the crane in the first photo, and pull the fuel "rods" out of the pool into open air, irradiating the workers regardless of whether the "rods" are new or used, like this (except in this case it was an unused new fuel ASSEMBLY with the casing, not an individual rod)...
Then the "rods" will then be placed in a container, and the container will be lowered to the ground...
In the process, a mishap may occur, and the fuel rods may be scattered on the ground, then they go critical.
And on and on till the end of either the northern hemisphere or the entire planet.
This dire scenario is best summarized by a Yale University sociology professor (emeritus), who says the Reactor 4 SFP is in danger of collapsing (from Huffington Post 9/20/2013; emphasis is mine):
Much more serious is the danger that the spent fuel rod pool at the top of the nuclear plant number four will collapse in a storm or an earthquake, or in a failed attempt to carefully remove each of the 1,535 rods and safely transport them to the common storage pool 50 meters away. Conditions in the unit 4 pool, 100 feet from the ground, are perilous, and if any two of the rods touch it could cause a nuclear reaction that would be uncontrollable. The radiation emitted from all these rods, if they are not continually cool and kept separate, would require the evacuation of surrounding areas including Tokyo. Because of the radiation at the site the 6,375 rods in the common storage pool could not be continuously cooled; they would fission and all of humanity will be threatened, for thousands of years.
Just like many North American experts, the professor simply declares conditions in the Reactor 4 SFP are "perilous". The common Pool is 100 meters away, not 50 meters. It's not "rods" but "assemblies". No idea what he's talking about when he says "two of the rods touch", but I have seen this phrase in other places from other experts. It must be part of the standard things to say if you are to comment on the fuel "rods" from the SFP at Fukushima I Nuke Plant. That Tokyo is part of "surrounding areas" of the plant would be news to most Japanese.
Compared to other reactors that suffered the core melt, the air radiation levels in Reactor 4 have been low enough (measured in microsievert/hour instead of millisievert/hour in other reactors) to allow human workers to work inside the reactor building and on the top floor for the past two and a half years.
For a fond memory, this was the operating floor of Reactor 4:
March 16, 2011:
April 10, 2011:
June 30, 2011: