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Fukushima Slips Out Of Control Again, Hits Highest Radiation Levels Yet

Kevin Douglas Grant |
March 28, 2011 | 8:57 a.m. PDT

Executive Editor

With trace amounts of radiation being detected in far-flung areas around the world, Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant has still not been tamed and a nuclear meltdown is still a possibility.

Some global experts think the crisis has reached the point where Japan cannot succeed without major foreign assistance.

"This is far beyond what one nation can handle — it needs to be bumped up to the U.N. Security Council," said Najmedin Meshkati, of the University of Southern California. "In my humble opinion, this is more important than the Libya no-fly zone."

The facility's cooling system has not been restored, and at one point the company reported that the unit 2 reactor was running at 10 million times the radiation norm.  The building was evacuated before the error was realized and corrected, but the situation remains extremely hazardous:

"After the levels were correctly measured, airborne radioactivity in the unit 2 turbine building still remained so high — 1,000 milli­sieverts per hour — that a worker there would reach his yearly occupational exposure limit in 15 minutes. A dose of 4,000 to 5,000 millisieverts absorbed fairly rapidly will eventually kill about half of those exposed."

Hundreds of tons of radioactive water seeping below the plant has made the repair job even tougher, with human workers toiling in dark, wet conditions, shifting out every 30 minutes to avoid overexposure. Some have wondered: What about robots?

The state of the robotics industry in Japan would be comical if the potential repercussions weren't so serious:

"The answer is disquieting, say Japan’s top roboticists. Instead of building robots that go where humans never could, this country renowned for its robotics expertise invested in machines that do things that humans can already do — like talk, dance, play the violin and preside over weddings."

Roboticists in Japan say they simply didn't develop the kind of technology they would need to repair Fukushima Daiichi.

"We should have focused on response and disaster-mitigation robots,” said Satoshi Tadokoro, who builds search-and-rescue robots at Tohoku University in Sendai. “The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry did not do that. The [power] companies did not do that. It is very strange and inappropriate.”

This kind of specialty robot exists throughout Europe and the United States, and some have already been deployed to assist the engineers at Fukushima.  However, Scientific American reported that those which had arrived weren't being fully put to use, a case of too little, too late.



 

Buzz

Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

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