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Snakelike Robots Will Explore Fukushima Reactor Disaster Site

Snakelike Robots Will Explore Fukushima Reactor Disaster Site
[Photo: The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images]

Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant radiation leak of 2011 has left the surrounding area too dangerous for humans. As a result, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant operator is calling in robots to assess the damage inside the reactors—en route to decommissioning the plant over the next decade.

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The snake-like robots are roughly two feet long and were developed by Japanese electronics giant Hitachi with affiliate Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy. Piloted by remote control, they will enter the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant through a thin pipe before rearranging themselves into a U shape to move through the facility. As they do so, they will take images and radiation readings, which will be sent back to the human operators outside the building.

Because they will be exposed to radioactive materials, the robots will be kept in a shielded box after the event, and won’t be reused. The reason for multiple units is that each reactor is slightly different, and the robots must therefore contain subtle redesigns.

So far, only one robot is ready to carry out its mission, and it will be deployed soon.

To decommission the nuclear plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to rebuild the individual reactor chambers so that they can be flooded with water to remove the melted radioactive waste. This could take 10 years, and the data gathered using the robots will be crucial to carrying out this vital work.

This is not the first time bots ventured close to the Fukushima power plant danger zone. Unmanned drones have previously documented the cleanup process—sending back haunting images showing an entirely empty town, as can be seen here.

[via AP]

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