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Toshiba shows off robot meant to help at nuke site

Associated Press Modified: November 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm •  Published: November 21, 2012
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It was unclear when a decision on the robot's use would be made, according to TEPCO, which operates the nuclear plant.

Although what Toshiba showed was top-notch robotics, what the machine might be able to do appeared limited in the face of the disaster's magnitude and complexity.

Japan boasts among the world's most sophisticated robotics technology, exemplified in the walking, talking human-shaped Asimo robot from Honda Motor Co. The inability of such gadgetry to help out with the Fukushima disaster was widely criticized.

Part of the reason is that robots, although suited for tasks such as greeting visitors at dealerships, are too delicate. Their wireless remote-controlled networks are not designed to endure high radiation. Honda has acknowledged Asimo would not have been able to withstand the environment at Fukushima, as some had suggested.

Toshiba's Yanase said the new robot, which has a dosimeter to measure radiation and six cameras, can stay in a 100 millisievert environment for about a year and can tolerate even higher radiated areas for shorter periods. At 100 millisieverts, the rise in cancer cases caused by radiation becomes statistically detectable, although even lower dose radiation is not advisable for people.

The suppression chamber was 360 millisieverts the last time it was measured, TEPCO said.

Decommissioning Fukushima Dai-ichi is expected to take decades.

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