Snake-like robot to check Fukushima site

A snake-like inspection robot is being tested in Japan in preparation for examining one of the three melted reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

The 60cm-long device, developed by electronics giant Hitachi, was demonstrated this week at one of the company’s facilities, and will be ready to begin assessing the damage inside the reactor in April.

Using a remote-controlled robot is essential since the radiation around the reactor chambers is far too high for people to withstand.

The engineers working at Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the plant operator, could soon get their first view of the melted debris since the nuclear disaster caused by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The robot will enter through a steel pipe about 10cm in diameter; take digital images and measure radiation levels and temperatures. Using the information gathered by the robot, engineers might be able to determine what would be the best way to repair the damage.

The robot has a lamp at the front and is designed to crawl like a snake through the pipe into the containment vessel. From there it must dangle and descend on to a steel-mesh platform just below the reactor core, capturing live images along the way.

Because of the reactor damage, large volumes of cooling water continue to leak, causing contamination and hampering the plant's clean-up process.

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