The Underwater Robot That Will Repair Fukushima


A robot is being built to venture into the radioactive waters of Fukushima’s worst-hit reactor and remove fuel rods.

When an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011, causing a catastrophic meltdown and radiation leak, plans to use robots to perform much-needed repairs were quickly dashed. The environment simply proved too complex and unstable for any normal robot to venture into.

The location of the nuclear plant at Fukushima after the Tsunami hit.
The location of the nuclear plant at Fukushima after the Tsunami hit.

In the years since, there have been efforts to develop robots that should be more useful. The disaster inspired a spectacular robot competition called the DARPA Robotics Challenge, designed to simulate rescue efforts. It led to the development of some remarkable new robots capable of working in unstructured environments.

The Japan Times The Japan Times that Toshiba, which manufactured the worst-hit reactor and is helping with the cleanup, has made a two-armed submersible robot that will float into reactor 3 to try to remove debris and retrieve some of the reactor’s fuel rods. The effort shows that, in contrast to all the fancy robots tested at the DARPA challenge, a simple, custom-made machine is sometimes the best solution for a given task.

The new robot is expected to embark on its mission sometime in 2017. Even if it’s successful, the environment will remain too dangerous for humans to go into. But it would be a major step forward in cleaning up the disaster site.

For more, check out this video by the Japan Times: