YOKOSUKA, KANAGAWA PREF. - Toshiba Corp. unveiled on Thursday a submersible robot to take live video of reactor 3 at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant to confirm whether fuel debris is sitting at the bottom of a pool of radioactive water inside.
The location and condition of the fuel in the three reactors hit by core meltdowns is critical information for Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., which runs the plant. Removing the fuel debris is considered the most difficult part of decommissioning the complex.
Unit 3 has the highest level of water inside at 6 meters. The fuel debris inside is presumed to have melted through its pressure vessel and settled at the bottom of its primary containment vessel.
“Until today, no one has seen the situation inside reactor 3,” said Tsutomu Takeuchi, senior manager at Toshiba’s Fukushima Restoration and Fuel Cycle Project Engineering Department.
“If we can observe the situation inside the reactor, that would be a huge leap in our ongoing effort to extract the debris” and eventually shut down the wrecked plant, he said during a demonstration of the robot at the Port and Airport Research Institute in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
Co-developed with the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, the cylindrical 30-cm robot, dubbed the “mini manbo” (miniature sunfish), has a camera that can move 180 degrees vertically on its front and a fixed camera on its rear, allowing it to crawl through the water while capturing images.
Tepco plans to send the remotely controlled robot into the reactor as early as mid-July. A camera inserted into the reactor in October 2015 was unable to reach the bottom of the containment vessel.
No probe has been able to confirm the location or condition of the nuclear debris in any of the three crippled reactors.
Tepco sent a scorpion-shaped robot developed by Toshiba and the institute into reactor 2 in February, but it broke down before reaching its target under the pressure vessel after a tire got stuck.
In March, Tepco’s five-day robot-based investigation failed to capture an image of what was thought to be fuel debris in reactor 1.
A separate Tepco probe in January found black lumps in reactor 2’s pressure vessel but couldn’t immediately confirm they were fuel.
In December, the government estimated that the total cost of the Fukushima disaster would reach ¥21.5 trillion, including ¥8 trillion for decommissioning. That was almost doubled the initial estimate of ¥11 trillion.
Takeuchi of Toshiba did not reveal how much it cost to develop mini manbo.