Toshiba readies scorpion-like robot for Fukushima nuclear plant

The robot probe can raise its tail camera to help operators navigate the highly radioactive reactor

A photo released June 30, 2015, shows a robot developed by Toshiba to probe the state of melted-down fuel in one of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in northern Japan.

A photo released June 30, 2015, shows a robot developed by Toshiba to probe the state of melted-down fuel in one of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in northern Japan.

In the ongoing battle to clean up Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, Toshiba is deploying a novel robot that's a bit like a scorpion.

Developed with the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), the cylindrical machine is designed to enter the primary containment vessel (PCV) of the Unit 2 reactor at the plant, which was heavily damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan. The catastrophe sparked a nuclear emergency and long-term evacuations.

Toshiba wants to deploy the device to help determine the condition and location of melted-down fuel in the reactor, which is too dangerous for workers to enter. The effort is part of decommissioning work at the plant that's expected to take decades.

The robot is 54 centimeters long, and can put itself right-side up if it topples over. It has a joint near its middle that allows it to raise its tail like a scorpion, bringing a camera and LED lights to bear on its environment, complementing another camera and LEDs in its nose section.

The video feed will be used by operators using devices resembling PlayStation game controllers. Control signals are sent to the robot through a wire. The 5 kilogram machine also has a thermometer and a dosimeter. It can withstand about 100 Sieverts per hour of radiation for 10 hours.

The robot could get hit by as much as 70 Sieverts per hour of radiation in the No. 2 reactor, which would be about seven times that encountered by robots that ventured into the No. 1 reactor, a Toshiba spokeswoman said.

In April, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power sent shape-shifting, snake-like robots developed by IRID and Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy into the No. 1 reactor. One machine got stuck, but another helped provide a detailed look at the inside of the PCV.

Toshiba, which has produced a lifelike android robot and a line of robot vacuum cleaners, began development of the nuclear probe in 2013. It's slated to be deployed in the next two months, but the electronics maker doesn't have a backup unit in case it gets stuck.

Japan put all of its nuclear power plants offline following the 2011 disaster. Safety concerns, public opposition and legal disputes have kept the current tally of 43 plants out of service, but Kyushu Electric Power is scheduled to bring one of its plants back online in August.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Tokyo Electric PowerroboticshitachitoshibaInternational Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?