This weekend marks the fifth anniversary of one of the most brutal earthquakes ever recorded. On March 12th, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake rocked northeast Japan, creating a tsunami that ultimately killed some 19,000 people, and displaced hundreds of thousands others. As if the effects from the natural disaster were not enough, a nuclear power plant in Fukushima was severely impacted, instantly creating a disastrous Chernobyl-like situation. In fact, the Fukushima nuclear plant tragedy has become only the second (next to Chernobyl) nuclear disaster to be given a grade of 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale - its highest rating.
It's clear that, as severe and dangerous as a nuclear disaster is, it has to be addressed quickly in some way. Since that grim day in 2011, many have died from the side-effects of being exposed to the radiation, and in some cases, it's not due to carelessness. Nuclear waste is one of the most dangerous hazards in existence and sometimes, the only real protection from it is to keep as far away from it as possible. That has naturally led to commissioning of robots that can travel through the area and send back useful information to those monitoring it.
Radiation hotspot near Kashiwa
The dangers of an area caked in radiation can't be overstated, and it's with the use of these robots that the point was really driven home. Even five years after the disaster, the radiation is so strong in the area, that these robots - each of which is custom-made and takes 2 years to build - end up dying before they can get to where they need to be. Naohiro Masuda, the head of decommissioning for Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), says that as soon as the robots get close to their target, the radiation ruins their wiring, ultimately rendering them "dead".
Despite that grim reality, Tepco states that certain areas around the power station have improved quite a bit, with some showing radiation levels as low as Tokyo. Still, that's not good enough for robots to be reliable in such a highly radiated area. It's noted that 8,000 workers are still at the site on any given day, making progress on dismantling some things and building others. Let's hope that all of these workers end up coming out of this ordeal unscathed, unlike their robot friends.