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Toshiba’s robot arms called in to help with hazardous Fukushima clean-up

Whichever way you look at it, the site of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant continues to face enormous challenges, with unexpected problems constantly surfacing over the five years since the facility was knocked out by a massive quake and tsunami.

In its effort to get on top of the situation, the site’s beleaguered operator has been using a variety of robots inside some of the damaged reactor buildings, with Toshiba among a number of tech companies offering help.

Toshiba’s latest bot will work in Reactor 3 to remove 566 spent fuel rods from a cooling pool. It’s a desperately complex and dangerous undertaking that has little room for error. High radiation levels inside the building prevent humans from entering to assist with the task, so the job has to be done using only robot technology.

Related: Radium – a compact radiation detector for a post-Fukushima world

Toshiba’s specially designed crane is made up of two main parts: two robotic arms designed to collect and cut up debris that would otherwise obstruct the task, and a third arm for grabbing and removing the rods, the Japan Times reported.

As you’d expect, the machine also incorporates several cameras for relaying video from a variety of angles to remote operators, allowing for precision control of the robot – vital for such a precarious operation.

Long wait

The robot, however, isn’t expected to start work till 2018, the long wait an indication of the complexity of the operation, as well as the lengthy training operators need to ensure skillful control of Toshiba’s crane.

While the Japanese company’s bot is tasked with removing spent fuel rods, the operator of the devastated nuclear facility still faces the monumental challenge of dealing with the reactors’ fuel cores that suffered meltdowns five years ago – the state and location of the hot, molten uranium isn’t even known for certain. Experts believe the clean-up operation could take decades to complete, leaving many hoping that further advances in technology will serve to expedite the process.