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YOKOHAMA, Japan: A remote controlled robot that uses dry ice to vacuum up radiation was unveiled by Japanese researchers yesterday, the latest innovation to help the clean-up at Fukushima.
The caterpillar-tracked device blasts dry ice — frozen CO2 — against floors and walls, evaporating and carrying radioactive substances with it, engineers said. The nozzle also sucks up the resulting gases.
The robot has two boxy machines the size of large refrigerators and moves on crawlers that are remotely controlled. Each machine has four cameras that allow the device to “see” what it is doing, an engineer told reporters.
“As the machine blasts tiny grains of dry ice against the surface, the impact of it as well as the energy of evaporation help detach radiological substances,” said Tadasu Yotsuyanagi of Toshiba, which developed the robot.
“Since dry ice immediately gets sublimated into gas, it itself does not produce contaminated waste,” he said.
Yotsuyanagi said the technology was developed initially to scrape paint off aeroplanes.
The robot can theoretically clean a space of up to two square metres per hour, but the current system can only hold enough dry ice for half an hour.
The engineers will test the robot first at a separate nuclear plant this month, aiming to introduce it to the battered Fukushima nuclear plant this summer, Yotsuyanagi said.
The massive earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, sparked an atomic emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the northeast of the country.
Efforts to clear up after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 are still continuing, with high levels of radiation hampering operations.
The decommissioning of the crippled plant is expected to take several decades.
Toshiba in November unveiled a remote-controlled robot resembling a headless dog that they also hoped to use at the Fukushima power plant.
The tetrapod, which weighed 65kg and was about one metre tall, was designed to be able to cover difficult terrain — such as going up steep steps — that regular robots struggle with.
In December, it successfully photographed some of the critical part of the plant’s reactor No 2, where high radiation makes it impossible for workers to walk in.
But when it was sent for more inspection for the second time, it was hit by a series of defects, including falling backward on steps, the company said.
Meanwhile, a Japanese government-backed researcher said yesterday no health effects from radiation released by the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant have been seen in people living nearby.
The pronouncement by Kazuo Sakai of National Institute of Radiological Sciences is the latest by authorities seeking to quell fears over the long-term effects of the disaster.
But it was dismissed by campaign group Greenpeace who said the government should not seek to play down health worries.
“Since the accident in Fukushima, no health effects from radiation have been observed, although we have heard reports some people fell ill due to stress from living as evacuees and due to worries and fears about radiation,” Sakai said.
“We know from epidemiological surveys among atomic-bomb victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that if exposure to radiation surpasses 100 millisieverts, the risk of cancer will gradually rise.
“To put it the other way round, we can’t say risk of cancer will rise if you are exposed to radiation lower than 100 millisieverts,” he said, adding that most people measured had radiation exposure of 20 millisieverts or less.
Sakai said radiation is not at “the level we have to worry about its health effect,” for people in Fukushima, taking into account exposure from the atmosphere and ingestion from food.