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Inside Fukushima’s ground zero: First robot sent inside melted reactor at tsunami-hit plant dies after just three hours – but not before sending back chilling pictures


    • Fukushima Nuclear Power plant went into meltdown in the 2011 disaster
    • Three reactors blew up after tsunami causing 300,000 to be evacuated
    • A robot was sent into one of the nuclear reactors to inspect melted fuel
    • But it stalled within three hours of the mission and has to be abandoned

The first robot to be sent into the radioactive reactor of Fukushima nuclear power plant has stalled just three hours into its mission.

These incredible pictures offer the first glimpse into the melted reactors at the Japanese plant after the 2011 nuclear disaster.

More than 300,000 people had to be evacuated after three of Fukushima’s six reactors blew up following the huge tsunami which devastated the country over three years ago. Nearly 16,000 people lost their lives in the natural disaster and subsequent devastation.

The photographs were captured as part of the robot’s mission to inspect melted fuel in one of the reactors.

Developed by Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy and the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, it was supposed to be able to function for about 10 hours at levels of radiation which would be fatal to humans and cause ordinary electronic devices to malfunction.

But decommissioning work at the plant suffered a setback after the adaptable ‘transformer’ robot stalled before it could complete its operation and had to be abandoned.

A second robot mission scheduled for Monday was postponed as engineers investigated the cause of the malfunction.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, admitted the robot had only completed two-thirds of Friday’s planned mission inside the Unit 1 containment vessel before it failed.

But the company said it had collected enough data to indicate there was path to send robots deeper into the reactor.

It leaves the door open to a new generation of remote-controlled robot missions which may finally reveal the residue of the melted fuel for the first time since the 2011 disaster.

TEPCO spokesman Teruaki Kobayashi said the robot sufficiently collected temperature, radiation levels and images from parts of the platform just below the reactor core’s bottom by the time it got stuck and became unrecoverable.

Mr Kobayashi said the test also showed the robot tolerated radiation and that the radiation levels were significantly lower than anticipated.

That means robots can last longer and some wireless device may even be usable, even though the radiation levels were way too high for humans to enter the area, even wearing protective gear.

Data will be used to improve future damage assessments, which are crucial to the safe decommissioning of the plant damaged by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

TEPCO plans to send in a different, amphibious robot next year for further investigation of the three reactors that suffered meltdowns.

Computer simulation and cosmic ray examinations have shown that almost all fuel rods in the Unit 1 reactor have melted, breached the core and are now lying at the bottom of the containment chamber.

The nuclear plant is still being taken apart, and it is estimated it will take decades to make the area safe, as well as cost billions of pounds.

With soil and water contaminated, nobody can live there yet, and it is unknown when the clean-up mission will be completed.

Reports found that few cancers would be expected as a result of accumulated radiation exposures, although people in the area worst affected by the accident may have a slightly higher risk of developing certain cancers such as leukemia, solid cancers, thyroid cancer and breast cancer.

Surveys show only a fifth of former residents want to return to living in the area.

The plant has six reactors, three of which were offline when disaster struck on March 11, 2011.


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