Japan a robot power everywhere except at nuclear plant

Thu Mar 17, 2011 11:10am GMT
 

By Jon Herskovitz

TOKYO, March 17 (Reuters) - Japan may build robots to play the violin, run marathons and preside over weddings, but it has not deployed any of the machines to help repair its crippled reactors.

While robots are commonplace in the nuclear power industry, with EU engineers building one that can climb walls through radioactive fields, the electric power company running Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi plant has not deployed any for the nuclear emergency.

Instead, its skeleton team has been given the unenviable and perhaps deadly task of cooling reactors and spent nuclear fuel on their own, only taking breaks to avoid over-exposure.

A science ministry official said a robot used to detect radiation levels is at the site of the accident in Fukushima, north of Tokyo, but nuclear safety agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama said: "We have no reports of any robots being used."

That robot would have come in handy early on Thursday when workers monitoring radiation had to back away from the plant because it was becoming too hot.

While Japan is renowned for its cutting edge technology, it also maintains an anachronistic element in its society that relies on humans for tasks that have given way to automation in many other parts of the world, such as operating elevators and warning motorists of road construction.

In one of Japan's worst nuclear accidents, two workers were killed in September 1999, when workers at a nuclear facility in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo, set off an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction by using buckets to mix nuclear fuel in a lab.

Japan is a world leader in robots, using them to automate the most complicated manufacturing processes and to sift through rubble to look for victims in earthquakes.   Continued...

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