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Old 19th March 2011, 20:51
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Japan a robot power everywhere except at nuclear plant

Japan a robot power everywhere except at nuclear plant

By Jon Herskovitz

TOKYO | Thu Mar 17, 2011 7:23am EDT

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan may build robots to play the violin, run marathons and preside over weddings, but it has not deployed any of the machines to help repair its crippled reactors.

While robots are commonplace in the nuclear power industry, with EU engineers building one that can climb walls through radioactive fields, the electric power company running Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has not deployed any for the nuclear emergency.

Instead, its skeleton team has been given the unenviable and perhaps deadly task of cooling reactors and spent nuclear fuel on their own, only taking breaks to avoid over-exposure.

A science ministry official said a robot used to detect radiation levels is at the site of the accident in Fukushima, north of Tokyo, but nuclear safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama said: "We have no reports of any robots being used."

That robot would have come in handy early on Thursday when workers monitoring radiation had to back away from the plant because it was becoming too hot.

While Japan is renowned for its cutting edge technology, it also maintains an anachronistic element in its society that relies on humans for tasks that have given way to automation in many other parts of the world, such as operating elevators and warning motorists of road construction.

In one of Japan's worst nuclear accidents, two workers were killed in September 1999, when workers at a nuclear facility in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo, set off an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction by using buckets to mix nuclear fuel in a lab.

Japan is a world leader in robots, using them to automate the most complicated manufacturing processes and to sift through rubble to look for victims in earthquakes.

Robots were also used after two infamous nuclear disasters -- Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and will almost certainly be used at Fukushima for work in highly radioactive areas.

Kim Seungho, a nuclear official who engineered robots for South Korea's atomic power plants, said: "You have to design emergency robots for plants when they are being built so they can navigate corridors, steps and close valves."

The Fukushima plant was built in the 1970s, well before robots were able to work on sophisticated tasks.

Robots are in place in many nuclear plants for structured situations such as monitoring pipes and simple maintenance.

Kim, a deputy director in nuclear technology for the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute, said budget constraints and denial have kept emergency robots out of many plants in his country and around the world.

"Nuclear plant operators don't liked to think about serious situations that are beyond human control," he said by telephone.
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Old 30th March 2011, 23:38
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Remote search: iRobot sent two of these PackBots to Japan last week. The rugged robots are operated remotely by a human controller.
Credit: iRobot
Robots to the Rescue in Japan

They may help efforts to bring the Fukushima plant under control, but are generally expensive and problematic.

* Tuesday, March 29, 2011
* By Kristina Grifantini

Last week, U.S.-based iRobot sent four robots to help with recovery efforts at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, damaged as the result of a 9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

Workers' efforts to bring the plant's reactors under control have been hampered by high radiation levels, and it is hoped the robots could help inspect and even repair parts of the reactors by working in areas too dangerous for humans.

iRobot sent four robots to Japan: two lightweight, portable robots called PackBots (costing around $100,000 each), and two large, heavy-duty robots called Warriors, expected to be on sale this summer. The PackBots, which weigh about 60 pounds, use caterpillar tracks to get around and a long extendable arm with a camera and a gripper on the end; they are already used by the U.S. military for bomb disposal. The Warrior weighs 350 pounds and has a large robotic gripper at the end of a two-meter-long arm capable of lifting up to 200 pounds. It is many times stronger than the PackBot, says Tim Trainer, vice president of operations at iRobot.

"We don't know whether these will be used for search and rescue purposes or for efforts at the nuclear plant—that is for the Japanese to determine," says Trainer. The robots rely on a human controller. All four have been equipped with fiber-optic tethers for communication, in case radio signals don't work in the plant's highly radioactive environment. An iRobot team is currently in Japan and has trained operators to use the robots. The robots can act as "eyes and ears in a hazardous environment, to keep a human operator safe," says Trainer.

Most commercial robots are not designed to be used in this kind of environment.

Max Lungarella, a roboticist at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and chief technology officer at Dynamic Devices, says mobile rescue robots—the kinds typically used in the field for surveillance or rescue—have sensors that are not well protected from radiation. He says it would be trickier to operate them without radio communications, which often are noisy during a disaster.

Lungarella adds that constructing robots designed to withstand high levels of radiation would be difficult. "For radiated environments, one needs robots that are particularly rugged," he says. "Such robots typically are rather large, slow, have only a few CPUs and sensors."

Some experts also question how helpful robots would be after a nuclear plant disaster. Something as simple as a locked door could prevent a robot from doing its job.

Technology Review
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Old 3rd April 2011, 18:58
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Algae Could Be Key to Cleaning Up Nuclear Accident Sites

Published April 03, 2011

| Popular Science

C. moniliferum, Crystallizing Strontium Minna R. Krejci et al.


C. moniliferum, Crystallizing Strontium Minna R. Krejci et al.

Algae can secrete biofuels and pump out biologic drugs, and now researchers think it could help clean up radioactive accidents like the one unfolding at Japan's Fukushima nuclear facility.

A Northwestern University researcher has identified a certain kind of common algae, known as Closterium moniliferum, that has a unique penchant for sequestering strontium into crystals, a trick that could help remove the dangerous radioactive isotope strontium-90 from the environment.

Strontium-90 is particularly hazardous because of its similarity to calcium. Because the two atoms share similar atomic properties, radioactive strontium can end up getting into the same places calcium can, like milk, bones, bone marrow, and blood. But strontium-90 isn't a dominant element in reactor waste -- there is usually billions of times more harmless calcium than strontium in a nuclear spill -- so being able to separate the two is critical for quick and efficient cleanup.

That's where C. moniliferum comes in.

The algae's real interest is barium, but because a strontium atom is somewhere between calcium and barium in properties and size the algae happily vacuums up and crystallizes the strontium as well. But critically, it leaves calcium behind, meaning cleanup efforts don't end up sequestering a bunch of harmless calcium along with the dangerous strontium.

And because the algae are really hunting for barium, the researchers think it's possible to seed a radioactive site with a small amount of barium to accelerate the entire process.

That saves both time and money, and in the midst of a massive disaster cleanup effort like the ongoing one in Japan, both time and money are extremely valuable. For their part, the algae waste little of either -- they are easy to culture and begin to precipitate crystals of strontium within a half hour of contact.

Strafe a stricken nuclear site with the tiny organisms, and you could have them hunting and sequestering strontium in a matter of minutes.

Read more: Algae Could Be Key to Cleaning Up Nuclear Accident Sites - FoxNews.com
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Old 9th December 2012, 17:07
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Toshiba launches radiation-proof robot to clean up Fukushima

Toshiba launches radiation-proof robot to clean up Fukushima

Published: 22 November, 2012, 02:53

Fukushima nuclear disaster
Engineers inspect Toshiba's four-legged robot during a demonstration at Toshiba's technical center in Yokohama, suburban Tokyo on November 21, 2012. (AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Engineers inspect Toshiba's four-legged robot during a demonstration at Toshiba's technical center in Yokohama, suburban Tokyo on November 21, 2012. (AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno)

In a bid to avoid having to send humans into environments with extremely high radiation levels, Toshiba has launched a new robot to help engineers decommission the Fukushima nuclear plant.

*Toshiba says the new robot can withstand high levels of radiation, but struggles to climb stairs, is prone to freezing with one leg in the air and once it falls over can’t get up on its own.

The robot, which was specially designed to help decommission Japan's crippled Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant, features a dosimeter to measure radiation and six cameras.

It can also stay in highly irradiated areas, such as a 100 millisievert environment, for about a year. Such environments are extremely dangerous for humans; a rise in cancer becomes statistically detectable at 100 millisieverts, AP reports.

However, the four-legged machine as a few teething troubles. During a jerky demonstration to reporters, it had to be lifted and rebooted by several people, after which it crawled up a flight of eight steps, taking about a minute to get up one step. And if it does fall over, it won’t be able to get up without a helping human hand.

Despite its limitations, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owns the destroyed nuclear power station, is hoping it might be able to go where they dare not send any human.

The reactors' suppression chamber, which melted down when a tsunami hit the plant in in March 2011, is highly irradiated. TEPCO hopes the robot may be able to help in the cleanup process.

“We need to go in and first check what is there,” said Goro Yanase, Toshiba’s Senior Manager.

The suppression chamber registered a radiation level of 360 millisieverts when it was last measured.

This is not the first time that robots have been used at Fukushima. In April 2011, just a month after the disaster, a Packbot probe was sent into highly irradiated areas – and found temperatures of up to 41 degrees Celsius and humidity ranging from 94% to 99%.

Japanese firms manufacture some of the most advanced robot technologies in the world, but until now their wireless remote-controlled networks have not been designed to cope with high radiation fields.

During the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, robots proved useless and men were thrown into the breach instead. But Toshiba said the robot’s wireless network can be controlled in high radiation by automatically seeking better transmission when reception becomes weak.
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