Japan

Robots and fabric may help fight Japanese nuclear disaster

Reuters/Kyodo

Japan is weighing creative solutions to combat its unfolding nuclear disaster. Ideas range from draping reactors with special fabric to sending in military robots to do the risky work. And a nuclear expert says that the country must be more open about its nuclear industry in future.

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The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which operates the crippled Fukushima plant, admits it has no idea when the world's worst nuclear crisis since Ukraine’s Chernobyl disaster will be under control.

One stop-gap measure could involve covering three badly damaged outer reactor buildings with special fabric caps and fitting air filters to limit radiation, local media report.

Another plan is to anchor an empty tanker off reactor two, so that workers can pump several Olympic swimming pools' worth of highly-radioactive runoff water into its hull.

Workers will soon begin to carpet two-thirds of the plant's 1.2 hectares of grounds with a resin to trap the radioactive particles.

The United States has lent Japan robots, which have been battle-tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, to navigate, film and clear rubble in the blast-hit reactor buildings. An expert team from Aréva, France 's state-run reactor maker, arrived Wednesday to help Tepco.

The company's shares have plunged to about a fifth of pre-quake levels amid a storm of criticism over news that it ignored expert warnings of a tsunami threat ahead of the 11 March tragedy.

Tepco and the Japanese authorities have been too secretive about their nuclear industry, says nuclear physicist Nils Boehmer at the Bellona Foundation in Oslo.

The company’s management must change and Japan has to make its nuclear sector more transparent, he told RFI.

There seems to be little chance that the four stricken reactors in the six-reactor complex will ever resume operations, according to company sources.

For now Japan must pump water into reactors to stop them from overheating, even as highly radioactive runoff leaks out, halting crucial repair work and threatening the environment.

Iodine-131 detected in Pacific Ocean water near the plant site has surged to a new high of 3,355 times the legal limit, compared to the previous top level of 1,850 times the legal maximum taken days ago.

And the figures are rising further, Japan 's nuclear safety agency says.
 

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