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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Nuke plant decommissioning robots wanted

Credit: TEPCO Fukushima Dai-ichi
The Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. (MRI) invites the global robotics community to upgrade and to develop a technical catalog about robotic technologies to move and investigate inside nuclear reactor buildings, namely
1) a flight technology to enable access to the top floor of the nuclear reactor building and
2) a technology to move around and conduct investigations under water in a flooded reactor building.
MRI is entrusted from the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in conducting Machine/Equipment Development for Decommissioning the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Planth.

40 years of decommissioning

On December 21, 2011, Government-TEPCO Council on Mid and Long Term Response for Decommissioning adopted "Mid-to-Long-Term Roadmap towards the Decommissioning of Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Units 1-4, TEPCO." The roadmap indicates three phase approach towards 40 years decommissioning period.

Japanese decommissioning robots

Credit: fuRo, Sakura
The Sakura remote-controlled transfer robot, developed by the Chiba Institute of Technology, is the latest version in a line of disaster response robots, and has been designed so it can enter and survey the basements of the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactor buildings. It is specifically designed to collect information in underground facilities, where surveys are considered most difficult. The underground portion of the nuclear reactor building has severe conditions not seen in the above ground portion. There, a robot needs to have high mobility and be able to withstand high radiation levels.

Credit: fuRo, Quince
Quince is a rescue robot designed for CBRNE disasters – situations involving Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive hazards. It was developed to perform on-site surveys on behalf of humans, such as fire-fighters. Hypothetical disasters include accidents at plants handling toxic substances, leaks of hazardous chemicals from chemical plants, explosions, and acts of terror like the notorious subway sarin incident. Risks are particularly high in enclosed spaces (underground and inside buildings), and expectations are high for robots as they will protect officers from secondary disasters. 
Quince surveyed the inside of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant whose damages were caused by the East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011. Quince, with modifications for operations at nuclear power plants, has photographed the details of the buildings of the power plant, created radiation dose maps, and sampled radioactive materials floating in the air. It has been helping to reduce the radiation dose of on-site workers and to shorten the work period.

Toshiba tetrapod

In November 2012 Toshiba Corporation unveiled a new tetrapod robot able to carry out investigative and recovery work in locations that are too risky for people to enter, such as Tokyo Electric Power Plant Fukushima No.1 Nuclear power plant. 
The new robot integrates a camera and dosimeter and can investigate the condition of nuclear power plants by remote-controlled operation. The multiple joints of its legs are controlled by a dedicated movement algorithm that enables the robot to walk on uneven surfaces, avoid obstacles and climb stairs, securing access into areas that is challenging to be reached by wheeled robots or crawlers. The robot also has a folding arm that can release a companion smaller robot that mounts a second camera. This can be launched from the main robot and positioned to take images of narrow places and any equipment behind them, and tubes and other places that are too small for the robot to enter. It is connected to the main robot by a cable.

Mitsubishi MEISTeR

Credit: MHI Meister

In December 2012 Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) has unveiled a prototype of the "MEISTeR (Maintenance Equipment Integrated System of Telecontrol Robot)," a two-armed robot to assist recovery work after disasters or severe accidents by performing light-duty tasks in areas inaccessible by humans. By changing its arms' attachment tools, the robot can perform various tasks such as carrying objects, drilling and opening/closing of valves. Going forward MHI will strive for further improvements and explore demand for broad applications of the robot in crisis management.

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