A remote-controlled cleaning robot sent to clear a passage for another robot at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan met its demise after briefly being exposed to excessive radiation.
After two hours of laboring to clear grime, it started emitting strange noises while its camera began to malfunction before finally going dark. It had to be hastily pulled out before operators finally lose complete control. The machine expired shortly afterward.
Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
The cleaning robot is part of a larger mission to explore and measure the radiation level at the reactor after its meltdown in 2011. The facility was affected by a tsunami, which destroyed the emergency generators used to cool the reactors.
The recent foray into reactor No. 2 is effectively the first attempt to enter the contaminated facility after the incident. The exploratory mission is expected to provide insights so Japanese authorities can ensure that radiation is contained within the facility.
Fukushima Radiation Level
Now, one should note that the robots used in the facility are built to withstand 1,000 accumulated sieverts. This is the reason why officials of the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holding are now scrambling after what happened to the cleaning machine.
Several days ago, it was indicated that the radiation level at the reactor No. 2 has already reached 520 sieverts per hour. This number is already off the charts, enough to kill a human within seconds of exposure. Considering the radiation tolerance of the robots, however, officials recognized that something was wrong with the initial figure.
Indeed, TEPCO has already revised the estimated radiation level, increasing the number to 650 sieverts. The 120-level discrepancy is quite disturbing and seems to validate criticism that its radiation measurement method is unreliable.
Some Japanese government representatives have already expressed reservations that TEPCO has been drawing information from the interference in the camera outfitted in the robots being sent to investigate. A Geiger counter measurement is seen as a better approach.
If TEPCO's measurement is valid, however, another theory is that the cleaning robot, which came armed with a water pump and a scraper, got too close to the source of radiation.
Nevertheless, TEPCO is now in a bind. The death of the first robot not only put the second robot at risk of failing its own mission because of the clogged passageway; this has also cast doubt on the viability of using robots for TEPCO's investigation.
The recent unfortunate event at the Fukushima nuclear facility does not indicate any immediate threat to surrounding communities although reports reveal that Fukushima radiation has already been detected in U.S. shores. Officials maintain that radiation is contained within the facility and officials are working to guarantee that it remains that way.