Robot Vacuum Sucks Up Radiation at Fukushima Plant

Workers are using an improvised robot vacuum cleaner to remove radioactive dirt inside the reactors

2 min read
fukushima irobot warrior vacuum cleaner

Special Report: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.

fukushima irobot warrior vacuum cleaner

After Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami in March, U.S. firm iRobot sent four of its rugged, tank-like robots to help with recovery operations at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

It seems iRobot should have sent some Roomba vacuuming bots as well.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant's operator, said it was improvising a robotic vacuum cleaner to remove radioactive dirt from the reactors.

TEPCO built the system by taking an industrial-grade vacuum and attaching its business end to the manipulator arm of a Warrior, iRobot's strongest mobile robot. By remote controlling the bot from a safe distance, workers planned to clean up radioactive debris and sand, which collected on the floor when the tsunami flooded the plant.

Watch the Warrior entering Reactor No. 3 and doing some vacuuming:


In April, TEPCO sent two PackBot robots, also made by iRobot, into some of the reactors. The robots measured high levels of radiation and captured dramatic footage of the damaged facilities. The company has also relied on robotic drones and remote-controlled construction machines. But this is the first time TEPCO uses robots to assist with removal of radioactive debris inside the reactors.

The goal of the cleanup, TEPCO said, was to "reduce the radiation exposure" of workers, who might have to go near or into the reactors to perform repairs and other work. Did it work? I haven't seen any details, but will report back if I find out whether the work helped to reduce radiation levels.

See below details of the operation [click image to enlarge].

irobot fukushima robot vacuum cleaning reactors

Images and video: TEPCO

Updated July 8, 2011 10:07 a.m.

The Conversation (0)

How Robots Can Help Us Act and Feel Younger

Toyota’s Gill Pratt on enhancing independence in old age

10 min read
An illustration of a woman making a salad with robotic arms around her holding vegetables and other salad ingredients.
Dan Page
Blue

By 2050, the global population aged 65 or more will be nearly double what it is today. The number of people over the age of 80 will triple, approaching half a billion. Supporting an aging population is a worldwide concern, but this demographic shift is especially pronounced in Japan, where more than a third of Japanese will be 65 or older by midcentury.

Toyota Research Institute (TRI), which was established by Toyota Motor Corp. in 2015 to explore autonomous cars, robotics, and “human amplification technologies,” has also been focusing a significant portion of its research on ways to help older people maintain their health, happiness, and independence as long as possible. While an important goal in itself, improving self-sufficiency for the elderly also reduces the amount of support they need from society more broadly. And without technological help, sustaining this population in an effective and dignified manner will grow increasingly difficult—first in Japan, but globally soon after.

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