Now that the easy part is over, thanks to the plucky and rugged Mini-Manbo, experts can start recovering that nuclear material.
Six years ago, a tsunami triggered a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Three of the plant’s six reactors experienced malfunctions in their cooling systems. With these systems down, the reactor cores overheated and melted. The melted nuclear material escaped the reactors’ containment chambers, releasing radiation into the surrounding area.
In the past six years, cleanup crews have been trying to locate these melted radioactive deposits and begin the process of removing them. Crews had previously located these deposits in two of the three reactors.
Recently, a tiny robot named Mini-Manbo managed to capture footage of melted uranium in Unit 3. This means crews can now begin the lengthy and difficult process of removing it.
Mini-Manbo in action:
Getting to the uranium in the first place was far from easy. The entire reactor has been submerged in water for six years and debris is everywhere. Throw in high levels of radiation and you get one of the most inaccessible locations in the world, for people or robots.
Previous attempts with robotic explorers couldn’t even get close to the uranium deposits before those robots melted from the radiation.
Mini-Manbo was designed to be highly resistant to radiation and maneuverable enough to avoid the debris blocking its path. Controlled by a remote pilot, the Mini-Manbo operates like an underwater quadcopter, with propellers that allow it to move in any direction.
Now that the cleanup crew has located all of the radioactive material from the reactors, they can move onto the hard part: recovering it.
The prime minister’s office hopes that the first uranium can be retrieved by 2021. This said, completely cleaning the site will take decades. Still, this is a promising sign of recovery for the site of the worst nuclear disaster in recent history.