US-made Packbot explores Fukushima Dai-Ichi Reactor 3

US-made Packbot explores Fukushima Dai-Ichi Reactor 3 (Source: Reuters/TEPCO)

A Kyodo release, published in the Japan Times, adds another layer to the story of Japan’s missing robots in dealing with the crisis at Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant. The extracts below are the words of experts and officials quoted in the article, they make for interesting reading.

On March 17th, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a list of requirements to the US government, “headlining the list was a request for robots — specifically, ones that could remove wreckage and measure radioactivity levels — as well as devices to inject water into the plant’s reactors.”

“It was the result of their realization that they could not deal with the crisis on their own,” a Foreign Ministry source said.

The article asserts that the lack of available Japanese robots for handling such a crisis has more to do with the government and private sector’s approach to the promoting the ideal of safe nuclear energy than anyone would comfortably like to believe:

But Hirofumi Nakamura, who leads the [Japan Atomic Energy Agency's] restoration assistance headquarters for the Fukushima plant, said, “Several months are required before the Japanese devices can be introduced at the Fukushima plant. Tepco sought ‘ready-made’ technology to be used immediately.”

A major reason hampering research and development in Japan is the safety myth of nuclear power plants, experts say.

Nakamura said both the state and researchers feel uncomfortable about engaging in research for “military purposes” and “accidents at nuclear plants.”

“While the state emphasizes the safety of nuclear plants to nearby residents, it does not encourage research into potential major accidents,” he said.

And just to emphasize the private sector’s role in this, it quotes an anonymous official:

A high-ranking ministry official, who declined to be named, said Tepco’s influence in government circles has made it taboo to question its decisions.

“Tokyo Electric Power is too big, and the state is also sensitive to it. Research that Tokyo Electric Power hates can never be promoted.”

Although it would have been nice to have been told which ministry this official belonged to, his words ring true with complaints about TEPCO’s marketing power and influence over entertainment outlets, such as demonstrated by the recent firing of Taro Yamamoto following his comments against nuclear energy.

Whatever has been hindering the development of reliable and necessary tools for dealing with catastrophic accidents, we can only hope that the recent crisis has reversed the obstacles – or at least that independent, enterprising engineers at home and abroad might pick up the task even without Japanese government or commercial backing. Not preparing for the worst in case it is dilutes a corporate or national message is simply unacceptable.

GD Star Rating

Related posts:

A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch