The Censored Diary of a Lonely Fukushima Robot Driver

Illustration for article titled The Censored Diary of a Lonely Fukushima Robot Driver

Deadly levels of radiation inside Fukushima's reactors mean robots doing human work. Which is great! But robots can't drive themselves, and their operators are placed in solitude and danger. One engineer documented his experience online before being purged.


The Japanese driver, who went only by "S.H." online, kept a blog of his daily routine before it was erased—likely by the hand of his bosses at TEPCO. And why would they do that? Probably because his writing exposed an environment in which humans are stressed, irradiated, and depressed. Luckily, IEEE Spectrum ripped (and translated) his blog before it went down.

S.H. describes disconcerting radiation exposure, though he seems rather nonchalant about the whole thing:

Today's work.
We did thermal imaging today.
We will be going to the front line wearing a glass badge that measures the cumulative doses and carrying two personal dosimeters.
The front-line situation is being broadcast on TV, but if you see it in reality on-site, it is even more gruesome . . .
One of my dosimeter's alarms began to go off and would not stop right before we began working. When I asked one of the radiation management personnel who was with us about my dosimeter, he said that I was given one for which the settings had been incorrectly configured.
He said, "There is nothing wrong with it, so please continue your work."
So, I did!

And yet, there clearly was a radiation risk, as S.H. describes his operating terminal:

Of course, there is ventilation as well.
Otherwise, we would suffocate . . .
There is a fan on the exhaust side, and it is naturally structured to pull air in on the intake side.
If it were only this ventilation system, radioactive material would get in, so an ULPA filter that is even higher performance than a HEPA (filter) is used.
Having said that, we still cannot take off our full clothing gear inside the shielded vehicle, and eating and smoking is prohibited.

S.H. begins to describe his worsening condition, both mentally and physically:

I really felt a sense of isolation and loneliness.

Migraine headaches have bothered me since around noon.

On top of all this, S.H. grapples with the power plant bureaucracy:

The robot missions have been suddenly halted.
Everyone on the front line, including our company, are all anxious because of the decision from the Fukushima Prefecture.
Our morale dropped instantly.


It's rare to get a look at the brain behind a machine. We champion robots, whether in the air or on the ground, because of their ability to spare a person whatever burden the metal's tasked with. But behind every UAV or reactor-sniffing crawler is a guy with a joystick. [IEEE Spectrum]


Diziet Sma

Let me get that for you: "a guy or gal with a joystick"