April 18, 2011

TEPCO Sending Robots Into Fukushima Reactor Buildings

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said on Sunday that it will send two remote-controlled robots into a reactor building damaged by a hydrogen explosion in order to gauge radiation and temperature levels.

Workers battling to stabilize the plant after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami have not been able to enter any of the reactor buildings at the stricken nuclear plant since the disaster.

The explosion blew the roof off the outer structure housing reactor three.  It was one of several explosions caused by a build-up of hydrogen reacting with oxygen in the atmosphere in the days immediately after the quake.

A spokesman for TEPCO said the robots would enter the reactor building on Sunday to check radiation, temperature, humidity, and oxygen levels.

The PackBot TEPCO will be using is already a veteran in working disaster zones.

The robot was sent to search through the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Center after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The second robot, iRobot, has experience in Iraq and Afghanistan at disarming roadside bombs.

iRobot Corp., the developer of the machines, is lending its robots to TEPCO for free.

Radiation from overheating reactors has led the government to impose exclusion zones around the Fukushima plant.

The news came as prime minister Yukio Edano made his first visit to Fukushima, where he met local officials and emergency workers.

Edano said the safety of people in the area was Tokyo's main priority.

"The government will place the highest priority on the safety of local residents," he told reporters in Fukushima city.

He also said that TEPCO was "in the final stage" of coming up with a strategy for solving the nuclear crisis.

"We continue to make the utmost efforts to address the issue of outflow of radioactive water from the plant into the ocean," Naoto Kan added in an article published in the International Herald Tribune newspaper Saturday.

TEPCO said levels of radioactive iodine-131 in the sea near reactor number 2 had risen 6,500 times the legal limit on Friday, up from 1,100 times on Thursday.

TEPCO said it plugged a leak of radioactive water from a cracked pit into the ocean and was checking for any more runoffs from the plant.

The company has been forced to empty containers with lower-level radioactive water into the ocean.


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