Five years after the nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima, the radiation is still so intense that even robots can’t survive certain areas of the site. Ever since a devastating 2011 earthquake triggered a tsunami that crashed into the Japanese power plant, thousands of workers have been busy removing debris and attempting to contain the radiation. Some of the reactors emit radiation at levels too high for humans to go near them, so special robots were designed to clean up the most dangerous areas. Unfortunately, even the robots can’t survive; radiation has already destroyed their wiring and rendered them useless.
Before they died, the remote-controlled robots—which each take two years to build—were quite impressive. They would swim through damaged tunnels of cooling pools, avoiding obstacles to find and remove hundreds of dangerous fuel rods. The rods have melted through their containers, and it’s not exactly clear where the blobs of fuel are located now.
It is extremely difficult to access the inside of the nuclear plant. The biggest obstacle is the radiation.
So far, the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) has completed approximately ten percent of the cleanup, which could take as long as 40 years. Reuters reports that although Tepco has removed hundreds of fuel rods from one damaged building, “the technology needed to establish the location of the melted fuel rods in the other three reactors at the plant has not been developed.” In the meantime, they are building the world’s largest ice wall, which aims to prevent radioactive materials from leaking into local groundwater systems that drain into the Pacific Ocean.