A month into Japan’s nuclear crisis, no robots have been put to work at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Instead, the plant’s operator is relying on a cheaper, expendable resource: humans.
According to the latest report, published yesterday in London’s Financial Times, Japan has only two robots nominally designed for radiation, and they’re sitting idle because neither can do anything useful at Fukushima. How could such a robotically advanced country be so unprepared? The Times echoes Slate’s previous report:
‘Japanese robotics researchers say efforts to develop robots for the nuclear industry have been held back by a lack of enthusiasm from utilities such as Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), operator of Fukushima Daiichi. Japan’s government encouraged development of nuclear-response robots for several years after an accident at an atomic-fuel reprocessing station in 1999 released radiation that killed two workers. But with no large market to spur private investment, prototypes languished in the lab and research programmes have been scaled back.’
In other words, TEPCO and other plant operators decided that robots were too expensive.