Asia

Fukushima’s Radiation is So Deadly Even Robots Can’t Survive After Exposure

Cleaning up the mess at Fukushima has proven to be a tough task even for Japan’s robots as high radiation levels in the site repeatedly cause them to malfunction each time a probe is attempted.

Considered to be the largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl incident, the massive meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant caused the leak of around 600 tons of toxic fuel, with high levels of radiation still being emitted today. The multi-billion dollar disaster was initiated primarily by a tsunami following the Tōhoku earthquake on March 11 2011.

The firm tasked with the management of the site is doing a massive cleanup effort but is currently having problems in deploying robots that can scan the site effectively.

Before the clean-up can even begin, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) has to identify the scope and location of each leak. The current phase requires the firm to examine and extract the hazardous material in the plant’s second reactor, according to the Associated Press.

The firm’s “scorpion” robots have been built to do the task but so far, all attempts to harvest any useful data have failed.

The last robot sent by the firm, designed by Toshiba to endure 73 sieverts of radiation, died five times faster than expected. The radiation level in the site was reportedly recorded at 530 sieverts. Tepco’s earlier robots suffered similar fates.

In January, a robotic probe’s camera was fried by radiation after it was sent into the Unit 2 containment vessel. One of the missions in February saw a small robot sent through a 10-centimeter-diameter pipe to investigate a damaged fuel rod — the robot was abandoned after it got tangled up in debris.

In another attempt, a scorpion crawler malfunctioned after just two hours of exposure to radiation.

While Tepco is gearing up another waterproof robot, which is scheduled to be deployed into the site’s first reactor in the coming weeks, the president of Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi Decommissioning project, Naohiro Masuda, has stated that the company is re-evaluating its methods in probing the plant’s second reactor.

“We should think out of the box so we can examine the bottom of the core and how melted fuel debris spread out,” Masuda was quoted as saying by the AP.

Fukushima’s nuclear disaster, which was caused by a tsunami and earthquake back in 2011, has resulted in the death of over 15,000 people and displacement of around 160,000 residents. It has been six years into a $35 billion cleaning effort that is expected to last into the 2050s.

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