An American tech company will built a robotic arm to fix cracks in a damaged nuclear reactor in Fukushima

Robotic arm to fix broken Fukushima reactor

An advanced robotic arm will be deployed at Japan’s Fukushima power plant to fix leaks of contaminated water from the plant's second reactor.

The robotic arm, also called the Fukushima Repair Manipulator (FRM), will be built by California-headquartered nuclear waste management firm Kurion.

Expected to be deployed by mid-2016, the robotic arm will move the repair efforts at the Rector 2 of the  Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant  into the next phase.

It will allow workers to remotely access the open holes in the reactor, clear debris and remove obstacles. The dexterous arm will than plug cracks in the reactor’s vent tubes and torus without forcing human operators to access the highly radioactive environment.

“Access to radioactive and hazardous environments is a crucial piece of the waste management puzzle,” said Kurion CEO Bill Gallo. “Each project is unique, posing an engineering challenge that demands custom robotics systems that can complete tasks where humans can’t operate.”

Only after the dangerous leaks have been fixed using robotic equipment will human workers be able to step in to finish the clean-up, removing fuel and debris from the reactor and so reducing the volume of contaminated water required for emergency cooling.

It’s not the first time Kurion has partnered with Japan's nuclear industry to assist with the recovery efforts.

In the summer of 2014, the firm delivered three remotely-operated robots to determine leaks and their causes as part of the first phase of the clean-up. The Fukushima Inspection Manipulator (FIM) robots scanned the primary containment vessel, vent tubes and torus for cracks and provided necessary information for the actual repair phase.

The robots are still working at Fukushima, inspecting an additional seven locations in the reactor building, which should be completed by the end of 2015.

Kurion said it will use the data gathered by the FIM to refine design of the new FRM robotic repair arm.

“For the past three years, Kurion has applied our innovative technologies throughout the plant to purify hazardous water and identify repair needs,” said the company’s founder and President John Raymont.

“Now, the adoption of Kurion’s Fukushima Repair Manipulator marks another critical step in accelerating the ongoing clean-up of the plant.”

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, about 300km north of Tokyo, was damaged in March 2011 by a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The incident led to the worst nuclear disaster since the explosion of Chernobyl in 1986. The plant’s operator TEPCO has been criticised for the way it handled the situation, which was further complicated by leaks of radioactive water from the facility.

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