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This Scorpion-Shaped Robot Will Enter One of Fukushima’s Reactors

The nuclear power plant’s owners still don’t know exactly what is going on inside the three reactors that melted down

The robot from Toshiba sporting two cameras (Toshiba press release)
smithsonian.com

The three reactors that melted down at Fukushima Daiichi’s nuclear power plant are still quite dangerous. Radiation levels remain too high for humans to enter. But the reactors need to be fully decommissioned and repaired. So robots are rolling in to give experts some eyes on the inside. For Popular Science, Mary Beth Griggs reports on the latest mechanical helper, which should make its foray into the plant at the end of August.

Griggs writes about the scorpian-shaped robot developed by Toshiba:

The small robot is narrow enough to fit through a pipe, and can flatten itself out into a rigid line to cross gaps or squeeze through tight spaces. But it can also raise its back like a scorpion’s tail, lifting up a camera that can help investigators get an exact location on the fuel.

Earlier this year, the plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), sent a snake-like robot to inspect reactor number 1’s primary containment vessel, which holds the nuclear fuel. The shape-changing robot found radiation doses at about a tenth of the levels expected, reports Martyn Williams for PC World. But the bot died just three hours into its mission. 

The new robot’s ability to raise its camera will give its operators a better view. It’s also able to pick itself back up if it tumbles. The scorpion-like bot should operate for about 10 hours if all goes well. Here it is in action:

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