Not even robots can survive within the ruins of the Fukushima power plant. Operators lost contact with the five robots that went in, they are assumed to have broken-down from the radiation.
After a 9.0 Earthquake triggered a tsunami, killing 16,000 people and causing a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, officials began removing the spent fuel pins (or rods) back in 2013. This project was headed up by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco). They have so far removed hundreds of spent fuel rods from one of the damaged buildings, but there are still three more buildings to clear, and locating the fuel rods is proving difficult.
“It is extremely difficult to access the inside of the nuclear plant,” Naohiro Masuda, Tepco’s head of decommissioning told Reuters. “The biggest obstacle is the radiation.”
The rods are about 13 feet long and weigh several tons and contain pellets of spent uranium fuel. The fear is that the storage pools or the rods themselves may have been damaged after the Earthquake and tsunami hit. Reuters has already reported that some of the rods have melted through their containment vessels.
The radiation near the Fukushima plant is too strong for humans to survive, so Tepco developed robots to navigate the land terrain and underwater tunnels to track down the missing rods. However, robots are not immune to radiation; it can and has melted the wiring within the five robots it sent in.
Tepco spent two years developing and building one of these specialized robots. At this rate officials believe it could take up to four decades to decommission the plant.
Photo Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Image of spent fuel rods: KIMIMASA MAYAMA/AFP/Getty Images