The operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant plans a more extensive survey of melted fuel debris at the No. 2 reactor using a special device to make direct contact and explore how to remove it safely.

The operation will get under way before the end of the fiscal year in March.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. will employ a rod-shaped device equipped with a camera and LED light, coupled with apparatus that can grab the debris, to determine the hardness of the material. That will allow technicians to determine whether it will be possible to remove the debris with the device or if it should be scraped from the base of the containment vessel, sources said.

TEPCO also needs to determine the extent of debris in the chamber.

It will be the first such contact with the nuclear fuel that melted through the pressure vessel and solidified at the bottom of the containment vessel after the triple meltdown triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

The removal work is most likely to begin with the No. 2 reactor because a camera probe taken there is making the most progress to grasp the extent of the damage among the three reactors that had core meltdowns.

TEPCO already ascertained that there is less wrecked structure to hinder debris removal work inside the containment vessel of the No. 2 reactor.

Previous probes identified pebble-like nuclear fuel debris and part of a nuclear fuel assembly scattered at the bottom of the containment vessel, located just below the pressure vessel.

The survey will form the basis for the development of technology to remove the debris and store it.

According to the plan jointly formulated by the government and TEPCO, a decision will be made on how to remove debris from either the No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 reactor by the end of fiscal 2019 and start removal work in 2021.