Robot facility aims to aid nation in nuclear crisis

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

Japan Atomic Power Co. on Wednesday opened a facility in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, that will station remote-controlled robots and dispatch them in the event of a crisis at the nation’s nuclear power plants.

The facility, which faces Wakasa Bay and is close to several nuclear power plants, will also train engineers to control the robots.

Two types of robots that can work in highly radioactive environments will be housed at the facility, where a total of 15 full-time officials will be stationed. About 100 engineers from utilities across the country will also be trained there.

“(The utilities) must not cause nuclear accidents, but we will train engineers to the level where they can handle any kind of accident,” said Sunao Tomimori, head of the facility, which was set up after a request by the Federation of Electric Power Companies, a Tokyo-based organization comprised of 10 regional utilities.

Remote-controlled robots have been indispensable to the ongoing work at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which has numerous areas where humans cannot venture because of dangerously high radiation levels.

Based on lessons learned from the Fukushima triple-meltdown disaster, the federation is aiming to establish one or two similar facilities in fiscal 2015 to help in the event of atomic disasters.

The facility in Tsuruga will be stationing and managing two types of robots, both of which are manufactured by U.S.-based iRobot Corp. and have been used at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

One, named Packbot, can measure radiation levels and shoot video, while the other, called Warrior, is capable of removing debris. The robots can be used if leaks are detected in containment vessels and radiation levels surge dangerously. Two Packbots and one Warrior will be placed at the facility.

Information from Kyodo added