We have covered more robots on this site than I can count. There are so many autonomous vehicles, drones and sensor-laden bots that are being built to do good from monitoring pollution to exploring ocean depths. Often these robots are built to go where man cannot or at least to complete jobs that a human would have a much tougher time doing, like diving to deep ocean trenches or scurrying amid rubble after a natural disaster looking for people in need of help.
That was the case of the robots built to clean up the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. It took years for the robots to be designed and built for the specific task of swimming through the underwater tunnels of the now-defunct cooling pools of the Reactor 3 building to remove hundreds of melted fuel rods.
It's been reported that the robots sent in to remove the melted fuel rods have died -- their wiring fried from the high levels of radiation as soon as they got close to the reactor, rendering them useless. These robots were just unveiled two months ago after two years of development.
Many other efforts have been made to clean up and contain the site. Human workers as well as robot counterparts are there everyday, but so far only 10 percent of the mess has actually been cleaned up. Reactors 2 and 3 are thought to have had partial meltdowns, but Reactor 1 is of the greatest concern. It's believed that the fuel may have burned through the pressure vessel, fallen to the bottom of the containment vessel and into the concrete pedestal below.
Tokyo Electric Power Company is setting very long goals for this clean up as it keeps proving to be more difficult than first thought.
“No one has ever done what we’re doing, but 30 to 40 years is a target that we can work towards," said said Naohiro Masuda, head of decommissioning at Tokyo Electric Power Company. "There are so many people involved that it would be wrong to alter that deadline on a whim. We’ve established a goal and need to show ingenuity to reach it, not take the easy way out.”
Since the demise of the robots, Reactor 3 still has 566 fuel-rod assemblies to be removed, not to mention Reactors 1 and 2, which have even higher radiation levels. It's not clear whether there will be more robots built to accomplish this task, but even so it would take years to design and build better ones to take it on.