4 Décembre 2016
December 4, 2016
By TERU OKUMURA/ Staff Writer
NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture--A student contest for developing robots for decommissioning work at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was held here on Dec. 3 to nurture young people willing to tackle the decades-long undertaking.
In the plant, robots are being used instead of human workers because of the dangerous radiation levels.
A total of 15 teams from 13 colleges of technology throughout the country took part in the competition, named “The 1st Hairo Sozo Robocon” (The 1st robot contest to compete in creativity for reactor decommissioning).
It was organized by a council of teaching staff at colleges of technology and the education ministry.
“Decommissioning work may give you a negative impression. But it is the same as space development in that both of them challenge unknown fields. I think that the students will be interested in the work,” said Shigekazu Suzuki, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the National Institute of Technology, Fukushima College, a leading member of the council.
The students were challenged with robotic tasks such as delivering a piece of baggage to the 3.8-meter-high second floor or checking the state of a bumpy floor.
Their efforts to protect robots from radiation or technologies to operate them remotely were also evaluated. That reflects the reality at the Fukushima No. 1 plant that workers cannot enter some areas due to high radiation levels or robots may not operate properly there.
A team from the Osaka Prefecture University College of Technology was chosen for the top prize.
The contest was held at the Naraha Remote Technology Development Center of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, an affiliate of the government.
About 40 robots have already been utilized at the plant. However, seven of these have been unable to return as they fell over or were caught between cracks.
Since the decommissioning work is expected to take up to 40 years, it is a major challenge to secure the necessary human resources and develop proper technologies.
More than a dozen groups of engineering students have competed in a robot contest to determine whether their models could be used to help decommission damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Fifteen teams from 13 national institutes of technology took part in the competition in Naraha Town, Fukushima Prefecture, on Saturday.
It is the first-ever event to raise interest among young people in the decommissioning project. Experts estimate that it will take 4 decades to complete the dismantling work. The organizers included the science ministry.
Robots developed by the students took on the task of ascending and descending a steep stairway modelled after actual buildings housing the reactors. The robots also had to take a video of a high place.
The organizers limited working time to between 5 and 10 minutes after considering the effects of strong radiation on electrical devices. The participants in principle needed to operate their robots via cables as radio waves cannot penetrate the thick concrete walls surrounding the reactors.
A team from a Tokyo institute succeeded in taking a video of a high spot by using an extendable arm. One of the members said his team had considered the impact of radiation during the designing stage and had reduced the number of electrical parts to create a practical mechanism. He added the group will advance its research to contribute to the restoration of the area around Fukushima.
The organizers hope interested companies will launch joint research projects using the students' designs.