A small drone flies into a damaged Fukushima reactor for the first time to study its melted fuel


Share post:

TOKYO — A drone small enough to fit in one’s hand flew inside one of the damaged reactors at the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant Wednesday in hopes it can examine some of the molten fuel debris in areas where earlier robots failed to reach.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings also began releasing the fourth batch of the plant’s treated and diluted radioactive wastewater into the sea Wednesday. The government and TEPCO, the plant’s operator, say the water is safe and the process is being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the discharges have faced strong opposition by fishing groups, as well as a Chinese ban on Japanese seafood.

A magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami in March 2011 destroyed the plant’s power supply and cooling systems, causing three reactors to melt down. The government and TEPCO plan to remove the massive amount of fatally radioactive melted nuclear fuel that remains inside each reactor — a daunting decommissioning process that’s already been delayed for years and mired by technical hurdles and a lack of data.

To help fill in that data, a fleet of four drones were set to fly one at a time into the hardest-hit No. 1 reactor’s primary containment vessel.

TEPCO has sent a number of probes — including a crawling robot and an underwater vehicle — inside each of the three reactors, but got hindered by debris, high radiation and inability to navigate them through the rubble, though they were able to gather some data in recent years.

In 2015, the first robot to go inside the reactor got stuck on a grate. Some helpful information came from the mission, but the crawling robot had to be abandoned.

Wednesday’s drone flight comes after months of preparations and training that began in July at a nearby mockup facility outside of the plant.

The drones, each weighing only 185 grams (6.5 ounces), are highly maneuverable and the blades hardly stir up dust, making it a popular model for factory safety checks. It’s nearly a square of about 18 centimeters (7 inches) on both sides, 5 centimeters (2 inches) thick, and carries a front-loaded high definition camera to send live video and a higher-quality images to an operating room.

In part due to battery life, the drone investigation inside of the reactor is limited to a 5-minute flight each.

TEPCO officials said they plan to use the new data to develop technology for future probes as well as a process to remove the melted fuel from the reactor in the coming years. The data will also be used in the investigation of how exactly the 2011 meltdown occurred.

First, two drones were to inspect the area around the exterior of the main structural support in the vessel, called the pedestal, before deciding if the other two could be sent inside to the area previous probes could not reach.

The pedestal is directly under the reactor’s core. Officials hope to film the core’s bottom to find out how overheated fuel dripped there in 2011.

About 880 tons of highly radioactive melted nuclear fuel remain inside the three damaged reactors. Critics say the 30- to 40-year cleanup target set by the government and TEPCO for Fukushima Daiichi is overly optimistic. The damage in each reactor is different, and plans need to be formed to accommodate their conditions.

TEPCO’s goal is to remove a small amount of melted debris from the least-damaged No. 2 reactor as a test case by the end of March by using a giant robotic arm, but was forced to delay due to difficulty removing a deposit blocking its entry. That monthslong postponement comes in addition to its already nearly two-year delay, underscoring the difficulty and uncertainty of the decommissioning process.

Source link

Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

Recent posts

Related articles

Stock market today: Asian stocks track Wall Street gains ahead of earnings reports

HONG KONG -- Asian share benchmarks were mostly higher Tuesday after U.S. stocks clawed back a chunk...

Facing pressure from rights groups, World Bank suspends funding for Tanzania tourism project

KAMPALA, Uganda -- The World Bank has suspended funding for a tourism project in Tanzania that caused...

Starbucks takes on the federal labor agency before the US Supreme Court

After Starbucks fired seven workers who were trying to unionize their Tennessee store, a U.S. government agency...

America’s child care crisis is holding back moms without college degrees

AUBURN, Wash. -- After a series of lower-paying jobs, Nicole Slemp finally landed one she loved. She...

Tensions between Beijing and Washington are the biggest worry for US companies in China, report says

Simmering tensions between Beijing and Washington remain the top worry for American companies operating in China, according...

Federal Trade Commission sues to block Tapestry's $8.5B acquisition of Capri

NEW YORK -- The Federal Trade Commission sued to block Tapestry, Inc.’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Capri...

Jury: BNSF Railway contributed to 2 deaths in Montana town where asbestos sickened thousands

HELENA, Mont. -- A federal jury on Monday said BNSF Railway contributed to the deaths of two...

Baltimore leaders accuse ship's owner and manager of negligence in Key Bridge collapse

BALTIMORE -- The owner and manager of the massive container ship that took down the Francis Scott...