Toshiba And Areva Unveil New Robots For Nuclear Sites

[UPDATED]The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) will send a third shape-changing robot into highly radioactive portions of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in August, seeking information that can help technicians decide the best method for removing spent or molten reactor fuel from the site.

Toshiba robotToshiba Corp. unveiled the latest robot this week. It is 54 centimeters long, nine wide and weights roughly five kilograms – about 21 inches by 3.5 inches with a weight of 11 pounds. It is being described as “scorpion-like,” in that it can raise its “tail” in order to direct an LED light in front of it.

The robot, which runs on two tracks, rather than four wheels, is to be controlled by wire during an inspection of the unit scheduled for August. It is capable of surviving for 10 hours in an environment with radiation levels of 100 sieverts per hour, according to Toshiba.

It is designed to monitor radiation levels, temperatures and to send visual images back to technicians.

The Toshiba robot was unveiled the same week that French nuclear power engineering company Areva brought out its “Swiss army knife of nuclear robots,” the Robot for Investigations and Assessments of Nuclear Areas or RIANA.

This robot has three-dimensional image capacity and can take thermal images, as well. It can run on wheels or on tracks. And it can sense obstacles, a valuable asset in cluttered areas or tight spaces.

Energid Technology Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., developed RIANA’s Actin operating system using software originally developed for NASA for use in robots deployed in outer space.

The software has been designed so RIANA can work “without necessarily requiring the presence of an operator – an optional guidance program allows the robot to find its own way and to work on a site autonomously,” Areva said.

In Fukushima, Japan, two previous robots sent in on surveillance missions in the No. 1 reactor in April were abandoned due to malfunctioning after they were exposed to high levels of radiation. They were left in the containment vessels, because technicians feared they would become stuck in the pipes during their retreat, which could cancel that pipe out as a possible route for other robots.

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