Fukushima Robot Training Exercises
Fukushima Robot Operator Writes Tell-All Blog
POSTED BY: Erico Guizzo / Tue, August 23, 2011
Editor's Note: This is part of IEEE Spectrum's ongoing coverage of Japan's earthquake and nuclear emergency.
An anonymous worker at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant has written dozens of blog posts describing the ups and downs of his experience as one of the lead robot operators at the crippled facility.
His blog provides a window into the complex and dangerous work environment faced by the operators, a small group of young technicians who, like other front-line personnel, must approach areas of high radiation, deploying remote-controlled robots to assist with efforts to further stabilize and shut down the plant’s four troubled reactors.
The blog posts, which have recently been deleted, depict the operators’ extensive robot training exercises, as well as actual missions, including surveying damage and contamination in and around the reactors and improvising a robotic vacuum to suck up radioactive dust. The author, who goes by the initials S.H., also used the blog to vent his frustrations with inept supervisors and unreasonable schedules, though he maintains a sense of humor, describing in one post how he punched a hole in a wall while driving a robot and in another entry how a drunken worker slept in his room by mistake.
The material also raises questions about whether Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant’s owner, is acting with adequate speed and providing enough robots and supporting resources for the robot teams. It's ironic that, although the robots are remote controlled, the operators still have to work close to the highly damaged and radioactive reactors. There is no communications infrastructure, combining wired and wireless capabilities, that would allow the operators to do their work from a safer location.
Skipping on down...
Below are portions excerpted from nearly 50 robot-related posts that S.H. published on his blog, titled "," or "Say Whatever I Want * Do Whatever I Want," covering a period from late April to early July 2011 [right, screenshot of a post]. This translation attempts to remain as close to the original text as possible as well as preserve the author’s style and tone. The translated version, however, may have inadvertently introduced inaccuracies or altered the author’s views. Also note that we tried to preserve the formatting of the text; S.H. typically writes one sentence per line, grouping them together when they're related to the same topic. Some sections (marked with [...]) were omitted for clarity or space. Please report any errors to email@example.com. And leave a comment below telling us what you think about the material.
POSTED: 26 APRIL 2011
Our new task is the operation of the exploration robots.
At some point we’re supposed to have domestic [Japanese] robots too [in addition to the robots from U.S. company iRobot].
For now there are three of us [robot operators], including myself.
The tsunami destruction inside the turbine building.
Mud all over, beyond recognition, a total mess.
To be honest, I feel as though we are fortunate that the building sustained only this much damage.
The nuclear reactor building is not as bad.
A program [to operate the robots] is needed, and we are going to use a Toughbook PC. The controller is the same as those for video game systems, like the PlayStation.
As we expected, that young employee is good [at driving the robot]!
Tomorrow the robots are off duty, so it’s my turn for training while their batteries are getting charged.
Apparently, they not only want the robots to be able to climb over rubble but also go up and down stairs, so we are just going to have to try hard and get the hang of it.
If you see anything on TV, it will probably be me behind the controls.
I hope to be in charge of the robot that is in the lead.
Skipping on down...
POSTED: 3 JUNE 2011
It’s . . . a . . . ghooooost!!!
As planned, we sent the robots into the No. 1 nuclear reactor for exploration.
We entered from the receiving bay of the building.
We settled into a rather low radiation area and operated [the robots] using the cameras and radio control.
I was one of the operators (one unit) today.
Because a power company employee said, “We will hand today’s images over to the media,” I think you will see the material, even on TV.
My robot, as usual, has had its alarm light on the head camera blinking on and off since yesterday.
I think you will be able to see this on TV: The robot with a red light blinking on and off on its camera is the robot I’m operating.
There is so much rubble and accumulated dust that the robots’ treads had quite a slippery time on the shellacked floors.
On the way back, to get to the receiving bay it is an uphill climb and the robots were unable to make the climb because it was too slippery.
We finally made it back by making running starts and finding areas with more grip by jostling the robot or by getting rid of scrap rubble that had slid under the robot, using the flippers to raise the body.
Today we ran the robots with the arm lifted up to the height of a person’s chest, on which a dosimeter measuring [radiation] is positioned.
At one point, the robot had to climb over a slope that was only the width of the robot, and there was a glass door that was leaning over after collapsing during the tremors. In that situation, we used caution and lowered the robot’s center of gravity to get through.
We put smear filter paper on the grapple (gripper).
The smear paper will tear if we put it on just like that, so we balled up a vinyl bag and taped it up like a sphere. Then we pasted the smear paper onto the spherical vinyl bag and placed it between the grippers to collect samples.
With the smear method, you can analyze the contamination levels and the nuclides.
Not to toot my own horn, but I’m gaining quite a reputation for my operation of the robot.
There is a place in the nuclear reactor building where a pipe comes straight up from below and there is steam shooting out of the floor like hot springs.
The temperature is around 33 °C and not so very hot, and the radiation level is about 60 mSv/h, which is about the same as the surroundings.
The humidity is about 56%.
As it happened, we found a hot spot.
There was a maximum of 4 Sv/h (4,000 mSv/h).
But that was just a momentary value and cannot be considered accurate data.
It fluctuated between 2 and 4 Sv/h, so we measured it as accurately as possible, and the data result was 3.2 Sv/h (3,200 mSv/h).
There’s probably some kind of pulsating ghost.
I think we will need to do an investigation of this in the future.
When lowering the arm to the floor surface, it was about 30 mSv/h.
That's a big difference, even at only a meter away.
POSTED: 15 JUNE 2011
Today we had hands-on operator training for the PackBot (made by iRobot), with [operators from] both companies together from early on.
It was more like Ethernet testing than training.
We mounted an antenna and Ethernet-type booster onto one unit, and we hooked up a LAN cable to it.
We were expecting to go from the double doors of the nuclear reactor building to the northeastern stairs, so we tested about 45 meters [150 feet] of cable.
Can one robot unit pull the LAN cable?
Furthermore, can it return collecting the LAN cable by itself?
Because it does not have a reel like the optical fiber, the operator (sub) has to release or retrieve the LAN cable while the robot is moving.
In other words, this unit alone will become like a wireless base.
This one unit will go to the first landing of the northeastern stairs.
Then another unit (one from our company) will go down the stairs to the very lowest basement level (basement floor 2) of the building.
We will go as far down as we can go in the No. 1 nuclear reactor building on [June] 23rd and check on the situation of the contaminated water.
I turned down the operation on the 23rd.
I will give the responsibility to a senior colleague who had done this prior to me.
I decided I will be the navigator.
Today the Warrior robot from the same iRobot company arrived at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.
For now, they brought only one unit.
Unless another unit arrives, it doesn’t make much sense.
Tomorrow we are going to do the operator training for the Warriors.
If we can shoot a video, I’ll do so.
It is just a voluntary operator training in the front area around our office, so I don’t think it should be a problem to shoot video.
Migraine headaches have bothered me since around noon.
POSTED: 16 JUNE 2011
Today we had operator training for the Warrior from the U.S. iRobot company.
We went over basic operation skills and maintenance methods.
We tried climbing over rubble as well.
The weight is 250 kilograms [550 pounds] and it is six to seven times bigger than the PackBot we have been using.
It can even suspend itself.
In other words, in a vertical direction, it can lift 250 kilograms or higher with its own strength.
Apparently, lifting about up to 100 kilograms [220 pounds] is easily done.
It can move with people riding on it as well (a person of normal weight).
It is difficult to maintain its balance when going up and down stairs (or climbing over rubble), etc., because of its weight.
Of course, there were no instances of it falling over.
The basic control operations are the same, and it uses the same PC and game controller.
The button operations are a little different because the functions vary somewhat, but I didn’t get mixed up.
The height is about 3 meters [9.8 feet] max [images above].
Its speed is about 30 kilometers per hour [20 miles per hour], which is faster than the PackBot.
It covers more ground when going up and down stairs than a PackBot, but because its body is so big, I’m not sure it will make it around the stair landings.
We plan to verify that point tomorrow.
Unfortunately, I’m busy with my bus driving duties, so I won’t be able to attend the test.
The battery is the same as the PackBot.
The batteries for the PC and the robot are the same (1 battery/12 V).
One is used for the PC.
The PackBot has four, but the Warrior uses six.
For the PackBot the batteries were individual units, but for the Warrior, they are in a pack of six.
POSTED: 19 JUNE 2011
Isolation and Loneliness
A very interesting and helpful stroy to share with the World. I was thinking that I hoped that the young Technician "S.H.", didn't loose their job, after Posting this info. But, then after considering the Dangers of being exposed to the Radiation and the seeming lack of adequate safety precautions taken by the Company Supervisors... Maybe I hope that he or she did loose that Job! So, that they can have a better chance of living to tell about it later!:O
- The Fukushima Robot Diaries
- The Fukushima Robot Diaries - Hack a Day
- Fukushima Robot Operator Writes Tell-All Blog - IEEE Spectrum
- Fukushima Robot Training Exercises - YouTube