Dec 6, 2015 | By Kira

TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, recently dispatched a smartphone-carrying robot encased by a 3D printed shell, to capture images and data from the Unit 3 Reactor, which was destroyed during the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster in 2011. The resulting information is hoped to provide valuable insights into the state of the PCV hatch, which is unreachable by humans due to strong levels of radioactivity.

TEPCO provides electric services to several areas in Japan, including the Tokyo region. Following devastating March 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, its power plant at Fukushima Daiichi was the site of an ongoing nuclear disaster, one of the worst the world has ever experienced. The disaster displaced 50,000 households in the evacuation zone, due to leaks of radioactive materials into the air, soil and sea, and to this day, the entire country continues to grapple with the catastrophic side effects on the land and its people.

At the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, reactors 1 through 3 experienced full meltdown followed by a series of hydrogen-air chemical explosions. During the early days of the accident, workers had to be evacuated for radiation safety reasons, leading to unfinished work and much misplaced information. Japanese officials classified the accident as a level 7, the highest scale value, and both the Japanese government and TEPCO have been heavily criticized for poor communication with the public and improvised cleanup efforts. Four years later, the damage has not been undone.

Though extensive work and an uncertain future lies ahead for the Fukushima power plant, TEPCO is leading an investigation into the current state of the Unit 3 PCV hatch in order to determine the extend of the damage and being to devise appropriate procedures and methodologies for fuel debris removal.

Following an initial portable camera that was sent into the hatch on September 9th, TEPCO released a more extensive remote-controlled robot with an attached smartphone to collect further data and imagery. The device casing was created with a 3D printer and equipped with an LED light, while the smartphone enabled the device to wirelessly transmit information to a remote PC. The robot can turn back and forth and perform 180 turns. It was also built to mimic a tank, and can drive over bumps up to five cm high.

TEPCO announced that their 3D printed, robot-led investigation was successful in obtaining valuable insights. While they were able to see that there was no dirt on the upper periphery of the hatch lid, contaminated water, dirt, and rust was found inside. In the initial September investigation, they were also able to determine that the hatch was not leaking coolant water from the inside, nor was it damaged. However, the floor was wet, and they could not confirm where the water was coming from. Furthermore, the video revealed white noise caused by the extremely high level of radiation.

While it may be too early yet to say what this means for the Unit 3 Reactor, or for Fukushima Daiichi more generally, this is but a first step in using remote-controlled, 3D printed robots to collect information from the site, and the technology could eventually be further refined and expanded in order to get the full picture of what exactly needs to be done.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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