‘Little sunfish’ robot to swim in to Fukushima reactor

Newly developed robot for underwater investigation at the Fukushima's damaged reactor, moves in the water at a Toshiba Corp. test facility in Yokosuka near Tokyo, Thursday, June 15, 2017. The robot, which is nicknamed " Little sunfish," co-developed by the debt-strapped Japanese nuclear and electronics company and the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning, is ready for deployment this summer at the badly-damaged Unit 3 primary containment vessel to assess its damage and locate parts of melted fuel, believed to be submerged under highly contaminated water. The robot, about the size of a loaf of bread, maneuvers with tail propellers and collects data using two cameras, a dosimeter and lighting that are mounted on it. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

When a tsunami devastated parts of Japan’s coastline in 2011, killing more than 18,000 people, it also hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant, triggering the most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Parts of the damaged reactors are still highly contaminated with radiation and robotics are playing a crucial part in the clean-up.

Toshiba and a team of researchers have now developed a swimming robot, which is being called “little sunfish”, to explore the flooded parts of the nuclear plant.

The size of a loaf of bread, the little sunfish is equipped for its tough mission with lights, manoeuvres with tail propellers and can collect data with two cameras and a dosimeter to measure radiation.

The little robot hit the waters June 2017 at a test facility near Tokyo, slowly making its maiden journey.

The little sunfish then slowly moved though the mock-up of a containment vessel.

It is being operated by a team of scientists – a data cable connects the robot at all times with the team, sending back whatever pictures or data it can capture.

Once the robot swims into the actual reactor, hopes are that it will collect crucial data so specialists can remove more radioactive waste from the damaged plant.

It’ll be a tough journey – previous remote controlled robots sent inside the plant didn’t make it. They got stuck in the reactors, had their motion functions failing or “died” because of radiation levels so high they would kill humans within seconds. Fingers crossed that ‘little sunfish’ will be more lucky. He’ll be sent into the reactor next month.