Emergency response to the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants using mobile rescue robots



On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake (magnitude 9.0) and accompanying tsunami hit the Tohoku region of eastern Japan. Since then, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants have been facing a crisis due to the loss of all power that resulted from the meltdown accidents. Three buildings housing nuclear reactors were seriously damaged from hydrogen explosions, and, in one building, the nuclear reactions became out of control. It was too dangerous for humans to enter the buildings to inspect the damage because radioactive materials were also being released. In response to this crisis, it was decided that mobile rescue robots would be used to carry out surveillance missions. The mobile rescue robots needed could not be delivered to the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) until various technical issues were resolved. Those issues involved hardware reliability, communication functions, and the ability of the robots' electronic components to withstand radiation. Additional sensors and functionality that would enable the robots to respond effectively to the crisis were also needed. Available robots were therefore retrofitted for the disaster reponse missions. First, the radiation tolerance of the electronic componenets was checked by means of gamma ray irradiation tests, which were conducted using the facilities of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). The commercial electronic devices used in the original robot systems operated long enough (more than 100 h at a 10% safety margin) in the assumed environment (100 mGy/h). Next, the usability of wireless communication in the target environment was assessed. Such tests were not possible in the target environment itself, so they were performed at the Hamaoka Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants, which are similar to the target environment. As previously predicted, the test results indicated that robust wireless communication would not be possible in the reactor buildings. It was therefore determined that a wired communication device would need to be installed. After TEPCO's official urgent mission proposal was received, the team mounted additional devices to facilitate the installation of a water gauge in the basement of the reactor buildings to determine flooding levels. While these preparations were taking place, prospective robot operators from TEPCO trained in a laboratory environment. Finally, one of the robots was delivered to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants on June 20, 2011, where it performed a number of important missions inside the buildings. In this paper, the requirements for the exploration mission in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plants are presented, the implementation is discussed, and the results of the mission are reported.