New Snakelike Bot to Probe Innards of Fukushima Reactor

first_imgStay on target Launchpad Blaze Postpones JAXA’s Cargo Ship Launch to ISSJapan’s Hayabusa-2 Probe Packs Up Space Rock Cargo From Asteroid Ryugu It’s been more than six years since earthquakes and tsunamis ravaged the Fukushima reactors in Japan, but they are still causing problems, and containment is limping along. Part of the problem is that so much of the site is critically deadly to human beings. So scientists and roboticists are looking to alternatives.That’s where Toshiba’s new snake-bot comes in. It’s a 42 footer that’s built specifically to navigate the treacherous ruins of the reactor site. The bot is destined for the plant’s Unit 2 containment vessel where, according to the associated press, the extent of the damage is still unknown. Extreme radioactivity makes the area all but impassable, and even many bots and electronics can struggle with the extreme environment.Still, understanding just how bad the damage is will the next step in determining how to approach cleanup. Learning where the melted fuel is, how much of it is still there, and whether the situation is likely to get worse are all top priorities.Even so, the decommissioning process will take decades. Radiation like this is no joke. Fukushima could very well be a problem into the 2050s, and even that work can’t start until the extent of the damage is assessed.A different bot was sent to investigate the plant earlier this year, but it went kaput in short order. The radiation levels there are so extreme that a human being would die in a couple of seconds of exposure. To be clear, the radiation and melted fuel is totally contained and isn’t getting worse, but there’s been a lot of trouble in getting even the bots close enough to the melted fuel to do much of anything. Several parts of the reactor need to be cleaned and repaired so that the bots can examine the space beneath the original holding tank for the fuel — that’s where the super-heated metals that were once in the core likely fell.It’ll be slow-going, though. Even with the new snake-bot, the levels of radiation seen at Fukushima are unreal. Metal can melt, instruments fried, and the sensitive electronics of a camera, for instance, can’t take the punishment. Here’s hoping this second run works.It’s not currently known what strategy the company in charge of clean-up, TEPCO, would do if another round of robots fails. No human, even with the most robust radiation shielding science can bring to bear would be able to survive inside the reactor core. And if bots and electronics don’t work, that doesn’t leave a lot of other options on the table.The fact that the previous mission barely made it a fifth of the way to its target is also a fresh, grim memory. And, what’s worse, is that reactor 2, the one that everyone’s trying to study right now seems to be the most reasonable. Exploring the other two reactors, which also melted down, is going much, much slower. And that’s not even counting TEPCO’s ice wall failure — an extremely expensive plan to try to contain contaminated ground water to the reactor site — or the fact that at the end of this exploratory phase, TEPCO will still need to move and manage hundreds of tons of stupendously radioactive fuel. That’s just… an incredible ask. And progress is slow-going at best.Here’s hoping little Snakey makes it. That’s its name now. I decided. Fite me.center_img Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img

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