Transforming robot gets stuck in Fukushima nuclear reactor

Designed to survey the meltdown, the machine completed two-thirds of its planned route

A robot developed by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID) and Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy rolls on the floor in a demonstration. On Friday, it began probing inside the primary containment vessel of the No. 1 reactor at Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which suffered meltdowns following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

A robot developed by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID) and Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy rolls on the floor in a demonstration. On Friday, it began probing inside the primary containment vessel of the No. 1 reactor at Japan's crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, which suffered meltdowns following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The ability to change shape hasn't saved a robot probe from getting stuck inside a crippled Japanese nuclear reactor.

Tokyo Electric Power will likely leave the probe inside the reactor housing at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex north of Tokyo after it stopped moving.

The utility sent a robot for the first time into the primary containment vessel (PCV) of reactor No. 1 at the plant, which was heavily damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.

The pipe-crawling, snake-like robot, which can transform itself into several configurations depending on the terrain, was deployed to determine the state and location of melted-down fuel in the reactor. The move was part of efforts to extract the highly radioactive fuel and decommission the plant, a costly undertaking that will take decades.

Equipped with a thermometer, a tilting camera to capture video, a dosimeter to gauge radiation and a laser scanner to measure distance, the machine was also taking readings within the PCV.

"The robot got stuck at a point two-thirds of its way inside the PCV and we are investigating the cause," a Tokyo Electric spokesman said via email. The machine became stuck on Friday after traveling to 14 of 18 planned checkpoints.

Tokyo Electric foresaw the possibility of the machine getting stuck, the spokesman added. The utility had planned to deploy a second robot in the PCV before the first became inoperable.

Developed by Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy and the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), the remote-controlled robot is 60 centimeters long and can be configured into a form resembling the letter I as well as one resembling the numeral 3.

The PCV is a huge steel container that houses another steel vessel that normally holds the uranium fuel that powers the station, as well as water.

In March, Tokyo Electric confirmed that the fuel in the No. 1 reactor had melted, complicating the extraction process. The confirmation was done via a tomography imaging scan that used elementary particles called muons.

Tens of thousands of people are still displaced due to radiation around the Fukushima plant, which is expected to cost at least ¥2.1 trillion (US$17.4 billion) to decommission.

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

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Hitachi-GE Nuclear EnergyroboticsTokyo Electric Power

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

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?