Scorpion-Like Robot to Venture Into Fukushima Nuclear Reactor

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A Toshiba engineer watches a small robot with two CCD cameras developed by Toshiba Corporation and the International Research Institute for nuclear Decommissioning (IRID) demonstrating it's ability to provide a live video feed, during a press conference in Yokohama, Japan, June 30, 2015. The robot was developed to investigate the interior of a damaged containment vessel at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit 2. TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty

In 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake rattled Japan’s Pacific coast, triggered a devastating Tsunami, and precipitated the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The massive wave knocked out power, causing the meltdown of three nuclear reactors and severely damaging a fourth. More than four years on, the island nation continues to struggle with the daunting task of cleaning up.

But progress is being made. A 54 centimeter robot with a scorpion-like tail, able to withstand up to 10 hours of radiation, will be sent inside one of the reactors this August. It will travel through a duct, to the primary containment vessel of the Unit 2 reactor, and will survey the melted nuclear fuel inside. The robot’s operators must undergo a month of training before they take hold of the controllers for the big event.

Toshiba Corp., which co-developed the robot, hopes it will be able to capture images so more suitable robots can be built to venture deeper into the vessel. The ultimate goal is to remove the melted fuel, one step in what is predicted to be a decades-long project to decommission the plant.

The bot is the second to be sent on this crucial mission. In April, a snake-like robot was sent into a different reactor, but was unsuccessful in spotting melted-fuel debris and died after three hours of radiation exposure.