New Robot Investigates Fukushima Radioactive Water

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July 21, 2017

An underwater robot sent to survey a damaged nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant has survived its foray into radioactive waters, in the process sending back images of the devastation.

"Little Sunfish," as the robot has been styled, has lights to show the way, five propellers to power its movements, and two cameras to display what it is "seeing." Also onboard the small machine is a device called a dosimeter, which measures radiation. A group of humans controlls the robot's movements.

The robot investigated damage to the Unit 3 reactor, caused by melted nuclear fuel that resulted from the meltdown that occurred in the wake of the tsunami that resulted from a powerful earthquake in March 2011. Tens of thousands of people died in the aftermath of the quake-tsunami combination, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Damage estimates have been astronomical, and the country has only very slowly returned to using nuclear power.

Researchers were hoping to see images of the melted fuel so they can work out how to get rid of it, but the robot didn't find fuel on its first day of work. More expeditions are planned.

"Little Sunfish" was not the first robot sent into such conditions by developer Toshiba and the nuclear plant's owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). Previous robots have not performed up to expectations.

The robot's expedition took place on the same day as the Fukushima area sustained another strong earthquake, this one registering 5.8 on the Richter Scale. No tsunami alert was issued.

In a related development, three former nuclear plant executives pleaded not guilty to charges of professional negligence in the first criminal trial stemming from the nuclear disaster. Entering the not guilty pleas were former Tepco chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and former Tepco vice-presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro. A government panel report alleges that the executives ignored an internal study suggesting catastrophic damage would occur following an earthquake of magnitude 8.3. The quake that did occur was of magnitude 9.0. If convicted, the three men face a penalty of up to five years in prison and up to 1 million yen in fines.

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