Word from Japan on robots and Fukushima

We’ve heard from Prof. Satoshi Tadokoro, director the International Rescue Systems Institute, who is the leading rescue robots researcher in Japan. He’s been asked about why aren’t robots being used for the reactor– here’s his response:

Several types of firefighting robots have been developed by Tokyo FD,
Osaka FD, Kanagawa FD, etc. in Japan.  Most of them are small type UGV.
A large unmanned spraying robot of Tokyo FD has been used for
large-scale fires, such as at Bridgestone fire incident.  I do not know
why it is not used at Fukushima case.  Maybe the reachable
distance/height of spraying would not be enough for this plant, in
addition to the radiation issue.  A robot developed after the JCO
incident by METI has been used in exercises at Rokkasho nuclear plant.
It is being actually used for monitoring the radiation.  Many robots
were developed after this incident, but they did not continued.  Power
plant conpanies mentioned that they did not need such robots because
their nuclear plants never have accidents and are safe.

This is a common problem. Emergencies are outside the normal so it’s hard to speed money in anticipation of them, hard to save for that rainy day. The robotics community has so much technology just 18 months from being hardened and packaged for responders to use…

I remain depressed that the US US&R teams carry with them pretty much the same technology they had in 2001 at the World Trade Center. Sure a Predator or Global Hawk may be circling overhead and that imagery eventually is scrubbed and makes it to them if they have sufficient bandwidth, but robots and sensors in their hands and under their control, nope.

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