It’s already been almost five years since the nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, and the inspection and clean-up is going to last decades. Our best weapon? Amazing robots, like this one Toshiba announced on Monday.
It looks like a James Bond torture device, but this bad boy’s here to clear junk from the decommissioned plant that’ll never reopen. This camera-covered, crane-like scavenger uses two arms to grab and chop up fuel-rod assemblies—apparatuses that previously supplied the reactor’s fuel—from pools in reactor 3 of the plant. All those cameras give human operators an ability to look around in multiple directions within the reactor.
This particular task is especially hard, because the radiation levels in the reactor are way too high for humans. Previously, in reactors with lower levels of radiation, humans were allowed to be present and monitor the removal of the rods. But this job relies totally on RC robots. The new Toshiba ‘bot is scheduled to start removing 566 fuel-rod assemblies sometime next year.
The 2011 Tohoku earthquake, followup tsunami and resultant nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in northeastern Japan has had an impact on the country’s tech industry that’ll shape innovation for decades. Big tech companies have started engineering products with disaster response in mind. Last year, Toshiba used another robot built for inspecting Fukushima’s reactors: a 21-inch RC scorpion built to operate in a highly radioactive setting.
In 2013, Japan halted operations of all nuclear reactors nationwide. But last August, reactors have started coming back online, much to public resistance. Japan’s relationship with nuclear energy is complicated for sure, but hopefully robots can make it a more manageable one.
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