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Fuel removal begins today at Fukushima. How dangerous is it?

TOKYO (AP) — Workers started the difficult task Monday of removing nuclear fuel rods from a heavily-damaged reactor building at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Japan. It's the first major step toward decommissioning the plant, a decades-long process fraught with uncertainty and challenges.

Q: How many fuel rods are there, and how long will it take?

A: There are 3,106 fuel rod assemblies, each holding about 60-80 rods, in four reactors, Units 1-4. The goal is to remove them over the next five years. What started Monday was the removal of the 1,533 assemblies in Unit 4, which is the only one of the four reactors being decommissioned that didn't melt down. Unit 4, as well as Units 5 and 6, were offline for regular safety checks and maintenance at the time of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Unit 4 had no fuel rods inside it. The rods have remained in a pool of cooling water 30 meters (100 feet) above the ground inside the reactor building, along with fuel that had been there previously, making them vulnerable to another major earthquake.

Q: How will the rods be removed, and what will happen to them?

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