Robotic Arm for Fukushima Fuel Debris Removal Unveiled

Pool photo / The Yomiuri Shimbun
A robotic arm to be used for removing nuclear fuel debris from the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is seen in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Friday.

FUKUSHIMA — A robotic arm that will be used to remove melted nuclear fuel from the No. 2 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was unveiled to the media in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture, on Friday.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. plans to begin removing a few grams of nuclear fuel debris on a test basis within this fiscal year after final adjustments are made.

Nuclear fuel debris was generated as a result of the 2011 meltdowns in the Nos. 1-3 reactors. The No. 2 reactor, where TEPCO’s probes have progressed, is the first from which the company plans to remove debris. The robotic arm has been developed by the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.

On Friday, a test was conducted in which the robotic arm operated fully autonomously when placed into a model of the reactor’s containment vessel. The folded arm slowly extended to move through a model of an entry passageway during the test.

“The arm can be extended about 22 meters, but there is only a 30-millimeter margin to prevent it from hitting the wall. So we want to improve the accuracy,” an IRID employee said.

TEPCO initially aimed to start the debris removal by the end of 2021, but postponed it to within 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The company later changed the schedule again to the latter half of fiscal 2023 as it took time to improve the control system of the robot arm and other functions.