Kurion is a technology company with an eye toward handling the safe, permanent disposal of nuclear waste, so it answered the call from Fukushima, Japan, to build the “first-ever external water-cooling system for a nuclear reactor.”
We spoke to Marc Rood, Kurion’s director of business development, who told us that their solution is a robot that resembles “a large refrigerator.” It sports a powerful arm with 7 degrees of freedom (the same as a human arm) and can reach 16 feet vertically and 14 feet horizontally. Sensors on the arm are used to identify cracks in the reactor, and a second robot to be deployed next year will actually be going through to do the repairs.
The radioactivity around the power plant is still high enough that humans working in full hazmat gear only have a 10-minute window before having to worry about exposure. But this robotic arm is “rad-hardened,” as Rood explained. “All components will be able to withstand radiation for enough of a duration that nothing will be affected. The only electrical portions of systems are the camera and gripper at the end of the arm.”
This is what the robot looks like. It’s not mobile, but is instead put into position by a human worker wearing a hazmat suit.
Here’s what the robot arm looks like as it scopes the reactor for any cracks: