An aquatic robot called Avexis is being tested in Japan ahead of being deployed into the damaged core of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Matthew Stock reports.
The Avexis robot takes its first plunge into a nuclear waste silo at the Sellafield plant in northern England. Small and nimble enough to squeeze into places human can't... it's helping survey a storage silo and clear away small bits of waste clinging to the silo wall, part of Sellafield's decommissioning process. Avexis was co-developed by a team from the University of Manchester. It's equipped with cameras and sensors, including gamma and neutron detectors. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. SIMON WATSON, LECTURER IN ROBOTIC SYSTEMS AT UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER, SAYING: "This vehicle here is Avexis, which is the Aqua Vehicle Explorer for In-Situ Sensing, and it's been designed to characterise and explore nuclear storage facilities or nuclear disaster areas. So the two areas that we're primarily focused on are the legacy ponds at the Sellafield site in the UK and the Fukushima site in Japan." In July, these lava-like lumps were spotted inside a damaged reactor at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant. It suggests there may be nuclear fuel inside, but accurately locating it has proved tricky. Earlier this month, Avexis was successfully tested in Japan close to Fukushima. The developers hope it will offer a cost-effective way of pinpointing fuel in the reactor so it can be safely removed. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. SIMON WATSON, LECTURER IN ROBOTIC SYSTEMS AT UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER, SAYING: "If it only lasts for two hours but it costs significantly less than a big expensive one then we could put several of these in over a period of time to get the data out that we need." At about 13,000 dollars, the makers say Avixis is the cheapest of its kind. Further tests are ongoing, ahead of eventual deployment into Fukushima's damaged nuclear core.