Japan is just getting started on tearing down its wrecked Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant — a process that's expected to take 30 to 40 years, according to the plant's manager. Next year, it's going to tackle the decommissioning of reactor 3, which was damaged by a hydrogen explosion during the plant's meltdown in 2011. The only problem? Reactor 3 is currently filled with radiation that would be dangerous for any humans who walked inside. So rather than send in people for cleanup duty, Toshiba, the original builder of reactor 3, has created a robot to do the job instead.
On Monday, Toshiba unveiled the large remote-controlled machine, which boasts two crane-like arms that will remove bundles of fuel rods from the cooling pool inside reactor 3. One arm helps to pick up and cut the rods, while the other arm holds them steady. The robot is slated to extract 566 of these fuel rod bundles — known as assemblies — from the reactor starting sometime in 2017. The machine is also equipped with multiple cameras, allowing people to oversee the project remotely.
The Fukushima meltdown is considered the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl explosion. An earthquake-induced tsunami caused the meltdown of three reactors, which released radioactive materials into the surrounding environment. In 2015, the Japanese government awarded worker's compensation to a man who developed leukemia after doing months of cleanup at the Fukushima site. It was the first official acknowledgment that radiation exposure at the damaged facility may have led to cancer, The New York Times reported. This robot is meant to make the cleanup process much safer.