Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the ill-fated Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, plans to use a snake-like robot to examine one of the plants three melted reactors?for the first time!?since the earthquake and tsunami disaster that struck the plant in March of 2011.
The robot, with a lamp on its front, is designed to crawl like a snake through a 4-inch (10-centimeter) wide pipe into the containment vessel. From there it must dangle and descend onto a platform just below the reactor core’s base, an area known as the pedestal.
Once it gets to the pedestal, the robot will transform into a U-shaped crawler and capture live images of the reactor, record temperature and radiation levels, and then transmit them to a control station outside the building.
The 2-foot -long (60-centimeter) robot, developed by Hitachi?s nuclear partner, Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, was demonstrated this week at a Hitachi-GE facility northeast of Tokyo.
The robot is expected to enter the Unit 1 reactor as early as April.
?Depending on how much data we can collect from this area, I believe (the robot) will give us a clearer vision for future decommissioning,? Hitachi-GE engineer Yoshitomo Takahashi said.
Officials say the decommissioning will take over ten years to complete, and because each damaged reactor has a different design structure, different robots with different configurations will be needed for each.
According to the Japan Times: previous computer simulations indicate that ?all of the fuel rods in unit 1 probably melted and pooled at the bottom of the containment chamber.? The Hitachi-GE robot will first need to confirm those simulations.
In 2012, an initial fiber-scope observation of the reactor produced poor images of limited use.
?To assess the debris at the bottom of the damaged reactor chambers, which are usually filled with water,? reports the Japan Times, ?an amphibious robot is being developed for deployment next year.
?The damage from the melted fuel burned holes in the reactors, thwarting efforts to fill them with cooling water. As a result, water must be pumped into them continuously, producing an endless stream of radiation-contaminated water that is hampering the plant?s cleanup process.?