Cleaner Robot Pulled From Fukushima Reactor Due to Immense Radiation
The camera on the bot was compromised by the high levels of radiation.
A remote-controlled cleaning robot sent into a damaged reactor at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant had to be removed Thursday before it completed its work because of camera problems most likely caused by high radiation levels.
It was the first time a robot has entered the chamber inside the Unit 2 reactor since a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami critically damaged the Fukushima Da-ichi nuclear plant.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it was trying to inspect and clean a passage before another robot does a fuller examination to assess damage to the structure and its fuel. The second robot, known as the “scorpion,” will also measure radiation and temperatures.
Thursday’s problem underscores the challenges in decommissioning the wrecked nuclear plant. Inadequate cleaning, high radiation and structural damage could limit subsequent probes, and may require more radiation-resistant cameras and other equipment, TEPCO spokesman Takahiro Kimoto said.
“We will further study (Thursday’s) outcome before deciding on the deployment of the scorpion,” he said.
TEPCO needs to know the melted fuel’s exact location and condition and other structural damage in each of the three wrecked reactors to figure out the best and safest ways to remove the fuel. It is part of the decommissioning work, which is expected to take decades.
During Thursday’s cleaning mission, the robot went only part way into a space under the core that TEPCO wants to inspect closely. It crawled down the passage while peeling debris with a scraper and using water spray to blow some debris away. The dark brown deposits grew thicker and harder to remove as the robot went further.
After about two hours, the two cameras on the robot suddenly developed a lot of noise and their images quickly darkened — a sign of a problem caused by high radiation. Operators of the robot pulled it out of the chamber before completely losing control of it.
The outcome means the second robot will encounter more obstacles and have less time than expected for examination on its mission, currently planned for later this month, though Thursday’s results may cause a delay.
Both of the robots are designed to withstand up to 1,000 Sieverts of radiation. The cleaner’s two-hour endurance roughly matches an estimated radiation of 650 Sieverts per hour based on noise analysis of the images transmitted by the robot-mounted cameras. That’s less than one-tenth of the radiation levels inside a running reactor, but still would kill a person almost instantly.
Kimoto said the noise-based radiation analysis of the Unit 2’s condition showed a spike in radioactivity along a connecting bridge used to slide control rods in and out, a sign of a nearby source of high radioactivity, while levels were much lower in areas underneath the core, the opposite of what would normally be the case. He said the results are puzzling and require further analysis.
TEPCO officials said that despite the dangerously high figures, radiation is not leaking outside of the reactor.
Images recently captured from inside the chamber showed damage and structures coated with molten material, possibly mixed with melted nuclear fuel, and part of a disc platform hanging below the core that had been melted through.
Extremely high radiation breaks down Fukushima clean-up robot at damaged nuclear reactor
A clean-up mission using a remotely operated robot at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant has had to be aborted, as officials feared they could completely lose control of the probe affected by unexpectedly high levels of radiation.
The robot equipped with a high-pressure water pump and a camera designed to withstand up to 1,000 Sieverts of cumulative exposure had been pulled off the inactive Reactor 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex earlier this week, The Japan Times reported Friday, citing the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The device reportedly broke down just two hour into the probe.
The failure led experts to rethink estimated levels of radiation inside the damaged reactor.
While last week TEPCO said it might stand at 530 Sieverts per hour – a dose that can almost instantly kill a human being, following the latest aborted mission a company official has said a reading of up to 600 Sieverts should be “basically correct.”
Even despite the considerable 30-percent margin of error for the revised estimate, the latest probe left no doubt that radiation levels are at record highs within the reactor. Even though it cannot be measured directly with a Geiger counter or dosimeter, the dose is calculated by its effect on the equipment.
Last month, a hole of no less than one square meter in size was discovered beneath the same reactor’s pressure vessel. The apparent opening in the metal grating is believed to have been caused by melted nuclear fuel, TEPCO then said.
The recent mission has demonstrated that the melted fuel is close to the studied area.
While extreme radiation levels have been registered within the reactor, officials insist that no leaks or increases outside have been detected.
The failure might force Japan to rethink the robot-based strategy it has adopted for locating melted fuel at Fukushima, according to The Japan Times.
The robot affected by radiation was supposed to wash off thick layers of dirt and other wreckage, clearing ways for another remotely controlled probe to enter the area, tasked with carrying out a more proper investigation to assess the state of the damaged nuclear reactor. Previously, even specially-made robots designed to probe the underwater depths beneath the power plant have crumbled and shut down affected by the radioactive substance inside the reactor.
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered a blackout and subsequent failure of its cooling systems in March 2011, when it was hit by an earthquake and tsunami. Three of the plant’s six reactors were hit by meltdowns, making the Fukushima nuclear disaster the worst since the Chernobyl catastrophe in Ukraine in 1986. TEPCO is so far in the early stages of assessing the damage, with the decommissioning of the nuclear facility expected to take decades.