Five years ago today, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that hit the northeastern coast of Japan. It obliterated several prefectures, killing nearly 19,000 people and damaging four reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Clean up efforts have been slow and now remote-controlled robots sent to the power plant to remove melted fuel rods have died –their wiring fried by the high amounts of radiation still leaking from the plant.
The untimely death of these bots leaves Tokyo Electric Power Company in a quandary, as it struggles to deal with the disaster and the radiation leaking into the water.
According to ScienceAlert, the Tepco has dealt with only 10 percent of the mess created by the tsunami and subsequent meltdown.
Justin McCurry of the Guardian reports, "Of greatest concern, though, is reactor 1, where the fuel may have burned through the pressure vessel, fallen to the bottom of the containment vessel and into the concrete pedestal below – perhaps even outside it – according to a report by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning. Reactors 2 and 3 are thought to have suffered partial meltdowns."
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The good news is that the robots, built by Toshiba, were able to remove 1,535 spent fuel-rod assemblies from the reactor 4 building before they went kaput, but the radiation levels were lower there, making the job easier to perform.
But Reactor 3 has been a different story. The radiation levels are much higher and the sensitive electronics and wires inside the robots couldn't handle it.
Unfortunately, a new robot cannot be sent in to complete the job. Each one was customized for the job at hand and took two years to build. There don't seem to be any understudies waiting in the wings. And in fact, a robot capable of withstanding the high levels of radiation environment doesn't exist.
Tepco thinks a serious effort toward clean up can begin in 2021 and says it will take between 30 and 40 years to complete.