Robots in Reactors

The robot Little Sunfish is swimming into the Fukushima nuclear reactor to give scientists a close-up view of the damage caused at the reactor by a tsunami in 2011. Three reactors were in six feet of water and there was a release of radioactive material. The tsunami killed more than 18,000 people and the nuclear accident was the most severe since Chernobyl.

This is not the first robot to be sent into the reactor. Seven or more previous attempts have failed. Some were destroyed by the radiation and others got stuck. Creating a robot that can tolerate the environment inside a failed nuclear reactor and also navigate the space is obviously a challenge.

Little Sunfish has sensors to measure radiation and cameras to capture visual information. All data is sent back to people for analysis — without endangering those people at all.

And there is important data being sent. Little Sunfish has found melted nuclear fuel and reported back the location to the people working on the Fukushima cleanup. Removal of the debris is still years out in the future, but planning will be easier and more effective once the team knows what and where it is.

Full decommissioning of the power plant will take decades and billions of dollars.

The radiation level in the reactors is high enough to kill human beings instantly… and many robots after a matter of minutes. Working in environments that are hostile to humans is something robots do well. In fact, protecting humans from dangerous environments is one of the most important benefits of automation.

We specialize in Rexroth electric motion control, including both new and legacy systems. Often, we can help clients avoid buying new machinery by providing factory repair and reman for Rexroth motion control systems.

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