General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

How can robots help prevent a nuclear holocaust in Japan?

Asked by mattbrowne (31456 points ) March 19th, 2011

From http://robotland.blogspot.com/2011/03/nuclear-emergency-robots-from-europe.html

“While Japan is renowned for its cutting edge robotics technology the world is surprised and concerned to watch human firefighters and plant workers at the high risk Fukushima site north of Tokyo.

According to the German media reports Japan has asked Germany for remote controlled robots for operations at Fukushima 1. According to Christoph Unger, President of German Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK), an inquiry can be send out to the federal states to ask who can supply such robots as soon as specifications have been arrived from Japan.

The KHG Kerntechnische Hilfsdienste GmbH (Nuclear Technology Support Services) was founded in 1977 by the companies operating nuclear power plants in Germany, together with the fuel cycle industry and major research centres. KHG has a range of vehicles extending from a 22 ton radio-controlled excavator, to small radio-controlled inspection vehicle.

In France the Groupe INTRA, created in 1988, two years after the accident of Chernobyl, by the three French nuclear operators EDF, CEA and AREVA, has developed, operate and maintain a fleet of specific remote-controlled equipment, able to intervene instead of human beings, in the case of an accident in one of its members’ nuclear site.”

Will this really make a difference at Fukushima?

How confident are you about robotic technology in terms of disaster mitigation?

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2 Answers

gasman's avatar

Robots are still not that smart or dexterous compared to humans. Even tele-robotic (human-controlled) devices are limited in mobility. Not that those tracked robotic vehicles described in the article aren’t cool looking and probably helpful. But when it comes to critical missions with unpredictable obstacles and unscheduled tasks, live humans rule. I know, the Mars rovers were spectacular! Maybe in another 50 years…

Presumably robots would be invulnerable to all but the most intense radiation. Electronics can be protected by heavy shielding around chips, while motors, wiring, and structural elements should function fine unless they melt from heat.

jerv's avatar

That is pretty much it. Robots lack judgment and a little bit in dexterity, but they excel in radiation resistance. I mean, you and I cannot spend more than a few minutes near the Fukishima reactors without serious risk, but a robot could stay there all damn day and still function; it won’t mutate or die. The worst that can happen is that either it loses power, the controls cut out and render it inert, or it gets so irradiated that it must be treated as hazardous waste rather than scrap metal when we are done with it.

I think that robots and RPVs are far more preferable for highly dangerous jobs, and many bomb squads agree that losing a robot is better than losing a trained human.

However, they cannot prevent disaster; they can only do damage control afterwards. Well, that is unless you consider the rod height actuators and other remotely controlled things (valves, breakers…) to be “robots”. They can prevent an accident from becoming a disaster, but at the end of the day, the human element (guidance, judgment, knowledge…) is a far greater tool when it comes to prevention.

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