The team working to contain the partial meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant got some help from a robot, allowing workers to observe the site at a safe distance, according to Asahi Shimbun.
Called Monirobo, for Monitoring Robot, the machine was loaned out by Japan's Nuclear Safety Technology Center. About 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) long and 1.5 meters high, it is equipped with a radiation detector, temperature and humidity sensors, and a 3D camera system. It can also collect samples and can be remotely operated from a kilometer away.
There are two versions of the robot, one red and one yellow. The latter can also detect combustible gases and neutron emissions.
It isn't fast - only 2.4 kilometers (1.4 miles) per hour - largely because of the shielding it has to carry to protect its delicate electronics from ionizing radiation. (Neutrons, gamma rays, alpha and beta particles can all cause problems for electronics).
But it allows the workers at the site to check radiation levels and monitor it without having to expose themselves to more radiation risks than necessary. Radiation exposure is cumulative, so workers can only be around the hot zones of the plant for a limited time.
The robots were developed after the Tokaimura accident in 1999, in which workers at a uranium processing plant added too much enriched uranium to a batch of fuel for an experimental reactor. Two workers died as a result.