Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A robot developed by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning and Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy rolls on the floor in a demonstration. On Friday, it began probing inside Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. (Photo: International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning)

Shape-Shifting Robot Sent Inside Crippled Fukushima Reactor

'It is the first time a robot has entered any of the three stricken reactors at the meltdown-hit plant, and the snake-like contraption might give its operators a better idea of what happened during the disaster,' Japan Times reports

Deirdre Fulton

For the first time, a robot entered the highly radioactive primary containment vessel (PCV) of Reactor 1 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on Friday, in order to investigate the state of its dangerous and damaged interior, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has said.

The plant was heavily damaged by the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated northern Japan. Determining the state of the uranium fuel that powered the station is key to dismantling of the plant, a process expected to take decades.

The Japan Times reports:

It is the first time a robot has entered the PCV of any of the three stricken reactors at the meltdown-hit plant, and the snake-like contraption might give the utility a better idea of what happened to the pressure vessel and its core in the disaster.

TEPCO plans to have the robot check half of the first floor of the bulbous PCV on Friday and examine the other half on Monday.

Ultimately, the utility plans to explore the underground portion of the vessel, where the melted fuel rods are believed to have puddled. But that is not yet feasible because the robot isn’t waterproof. A waterproof version is expected to be developed by the end of next March.

According to the Shanghai Daily:

The robot being used Friday, equipped with cameras, a thermometer and a dosimeter, has been developed by Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. and the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, but TEPCO has had issues with using robots in the past.

Such problems include limited operating life, failing circuitry and malfunctions, and unclear images obtained due to high levels of radiation. Some robots used in the past have also been lost due to getting stuck on debris in the containment vessels or in narrow spaces, or on uneven surfaces and have been irretrievable.

The robot deployed Friday is expected to circumnavigate some of these problems as it has the ability to change shapes to fit into its surrounding, with its most significant function being able to shift into a U-shape to better fit inside the vessel, said TEPCO.

Robots are being used to explore the site because the task would prove fatal for humans due to lethal levels of radioactivity.

"The radiation level is very high inside the PCV and we assume that the maximum time for investigation is five to six hours each time, though the robot can investigate for 10 hours," Tomohisa Ito, a spokesman for the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, told IDG News Service via email.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Biden White House Dismisses WHO Call for Moratorium on Vaccine Boosters

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki touted U.S. vaccine donations to poor countries, but public health advocates have warned the Biden administration isn't doing nearly enough.

Jake Johnson ·

Democrats Demand Amazon and Facebook End Efforts to 'Sideline' FTC Chair Lina Khan

"Your efforts only add to the perception that you are attempting to bully your regulators, disarm the FTC, and avoid accountability rather than to strengthen ethics standards."

Jessica Corbett ·

Amnesty Follows House Dems' Letter by Imploring Biden to Close Gitmo 'Once and for All'

"This letter, signed by four House committee chairs, should send a clear message to President Biden: He has the political support to swiftly close the detention center at Guantánamo."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Truly Disturbing': Facebook Blasted for Blocking NYU Researchers Examining Ad Model and Misinformation

"It is disgraceful that Facebook is attempting to squash legitimate research that is informing the public about disinformation on their platform."

Jessica Corbett ·

After Decades-Long Grassroots Push, Key Senate Panel Votes to Repeal Iraq War Authorization

Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of the U.S. House to vote against the AUMF in 2001, called the vote "a major victory in our fight to end forever wars."

Julia Conley ·