Robots report radiation inside Japan’s reactor buildings too high for workers

A pair of thin robots on treads sent to explore buildings inside Japan’s crippled nuclear reactor came back Monday with disheartening news: Radiation levels are far too high for repair crews to go inside.T

In this image released by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

In this image released by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

TOKYO — A pair of thin robots on treads sent to explore buildings inside Japan’s crippled nuclear reactor came back Monday with disheartening news: Radiation levels are far too high for repair crews to go inside.

Nevertheless, officials remained hopeful they can stick to their freshly minted “roadmap” for cleaning up the radiation leak and stabilizing the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant by year’s end so they can begin returning tens of thousands of evacuees to their homes.

“Even I had expected high radioactivity in those areas. I’m sure (plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.) and other experts have factored in those figures when they compiled the roadmap,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said.

Officials said Monday that radiation had spiked in a water tank in Unit 2 and contaminated water was discovered in other areas of the plant, underscoring the growing list of challenges facing TEPCO in cleaning up and containing the radiation. They also described in more detail the damage to fuel in three troubled reactors, saying pellets had melted.

Angry at the slow response to the nuclear crisis and to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that caused it, lawmakers tore into Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

“You should be bowing your head in apology. You clearly have no leadership at all,” Masashi Waki, a lawmaker from the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, shouted at Kan.

“I am sincerely apologizing for what has happened,” Kan said, stressing the government was doing all it could to handle the unprecedented disasters.

TEPCO’s president, Masataka Shimizu, appeared ill at ease as lawmakers heckled and taunted him.

Workers have not been able to enter the reactor buildings at the stricken plant since the first days after the cooling systems were wrecked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing. Hydrogen explosions in both buildings in the first few days destroyed their roofs and scattered radioactive debris.

On Sunday, a plant worker opened an outer door to one of the buildings and two Packbots, which resemble drafting lamps on tank-like treads, entered. After the worker closed the door, one robot opened an inner door and both rolled inside to take readings for temperature, pressure and radioactivity. They later entered a second building.

The robots reported radioactivity readings of up to 49 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 1 and up to 57 inside Unit 3, levels too high for workers to realistically enter.

“It’s a harsh environment for humans to work inside,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.

Japanese authorities more than doubled the legal limit for nuclear workers since the crisis began to 250 millisieverts a year. Workers in the U.S. nuclear industry are allowed an upper limit of 50 millisieverts per year. Doctors say radiation sickness sets in at 1,000 millisieverts and includes nausea and vomiting.

The robots, made by Bedford, Massachusetts, company iRobot, which also makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner, explored Unit 2 on Monday, but TEPCO officials had yet to analyze that data.

The radioactivity must be reduced, possibly with the removal of contaminated debris and stagnant water, before repair crews would be allowed inside, said NISA official Masataka Yoshizawa.

Sturdier robots can remove some of the debris, but workers are needed to test the integrity of the equipment and carry out electrical repairs needed to restore the cooling systems as called for in the road map, Yoshizawa said.

“What robots can do is limited, so eventually, people must enter the buildings,” TEPCO official Takeshi Makigami said.

The robots, along with remote-controlled miniature drones, have enabled TEPCO to photograph and take measurements of conditions in and around the plant while minimizing workers’ exposure to radiation and other hazards.

Separately, readings from a water tank attached to the spent fuel pool in Unit 2 showed a severe spike in radiation that NISA officials said might have been caused by the escape of radioactive vapour from a nearby containment vessel. They said, however, the possibility of damage to spent fuel rods could not be ruled out.

NISA also sent a report to the government watchdog Nuclear Safety Commission, saying that some fuel pellets and rods in the reactors in Units 1, 2 and 3 had become overheated and melted, the first time it had provided details of the damage to the fuel. Nishiyama, said the agency can only say “more than 3 per cent” of the fuel rods have melted.

A pool of stagnant radioactive water was also discovered in the basement of Unit 4.

With evacuees’ ordeal stretching into the long-term, some began moving out of school gymnasiums into temporary housing. Hundreds who have not found apartments or relatives to take them in began filling up inns at hot springs.

“The government has asked us to be ready to take in as many as 200 evacuees for the next four months at least,” said Masaki Hata, whose family has run the Yoshikawaya Hot Springs Inn on the outskirts of Fukushima for seven generations.

Michiaki Niitsuma, a 27-year-old office worker, said he was glad to have a comfortable place to stay while he waited to go home.

“My kids got sick in the shelter. It was cold. It’s much better here. It’s a relief,” he said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The future of Westerner Park continues to be plagued by many unknowns, including when city council will make a decision about financing its operations. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Red Deer city council delays making decision on Westerner Park financing

It will mean missing the next opportunity to apply for a provincial loan

Nineteen-year-old Amanda enjoys a ride during a visit to Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. photo submitted
Busy days at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler

The ranch, which launched operations last summer, provides support through animal interaction

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the announcement that the city will be getting a drug treatment court Thursday. Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, looks on.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Veer concerned about rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

The City of Red Deer is reminding citizens to protect themselves against… Continue reading

Rode
Volunteering played major role in RDC awards

Under normal circumstances, the RDC Red Deer Bottling Athlete of the Year… Continue reading

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

Health Minister Patty Hajdu is shown at a COVID-19 press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai
Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Health Canada proposes new restrictions on talc in some personal care products

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Lawmakers are debating legislation to legalize single-event betting as a bill reaches final reading in the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
More supply needed to ease housing price crunch, but always more to do, Freeland says

More supply needed to ease housing price crunch, but always more to do, Freeland says

Letisha Reimer is shown in a photo, part of a memorial to her outside Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in Abbotsford, B.C., Monday, Nov.7, 2016. A B.C. Supreme Court judge is expected to deliver her decision today over whether a man who stabbed two high school students is not criminally responsible because he had a mental disorder. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geordon Omand
Man who stabbed two students in Abbotsford, B.C., found criminally responsible

Man who stabbed two students in Abbotsford, B.C., found criminally responsible

Light from the sunset hits the skyline in Toronto, Ont., on Tuesday October 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Hate crimes jumped 51 per cent in part spurred by pandemic, Toronto police report

Hate crimes jumped 51 per cent in part spurred by pandemic, Toronto police report

A passenger from Air India flight 187 from New Delhi arrives at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Wednesday April 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canada to suspend flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days

Canada to suspend flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days

Inter Pipeline's Heartland Petrochemical Complex in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. is shown in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Inter Pipeline *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Hostile takeover target Inter Pipeline reports 60% of Heartland plant is contracted

Hostile takeover target Inter Pipeline reports 60% of Heartland plant is contracted

Smoke pours from the stacks at the Portlands Energy Centre in Toronto on Thursday January 15, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Risk experts say climate change to take big chunk of Canadian economy by 2050

Risk experts say climate change to take big chunk of Canadian economy by 2050

Most Read