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TOKYO (AP) — A pair of thin robots on treads sent to explore buildings inside Japan’s crippled nuclear reactor came back Monday with disheartening news: Radiation levels are far too high for repair crews to go inside.
Officials said Monday that radiation had spiked in a water tank in Unit 2 and contaminated water was discovered in other areas of the plant, underscoring the growing list of challenges facing TEPCO in cleaning up and containing the radiation. They also described in more detail the damage to fuel in three troubled reactors, saying pellets had melted.
Workers have not been able to enter the reactor buildings at the stricken plant since the first days after the cooling systems were wrecked by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 27,000 people dead or missing. Hydrogen explosions in both buildings in the first few days destroyed their roofs and scattered radioactive debris.On Sunday, a plant worker opened an outer door to one of the buildings and two Packbots, which resemble drafting lamps on tank-like treads, entered. After the worker closed the door, one robot opened an inner door and both rolled inside to take readings for temperature, pressure and radioactivity. They later entered a second building.The robots reported radioactivity readings of up to 49 millisieverts per hour inside Unit 1 and up to 57 inside Unit 3, levels too high for workers to realistically enter.
“It’s a harsh environment for humans to work inside,” said Hidehiko Nishiyama of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
Japanese authorities more than doubled the legal limit for nuclear workers since the crisis began to 250 millisieverts a year. Workers in the U.S. nuclear industry are allowed an upper limit of 50 millisieverts per year. Doctors say radiation sickness sets in at 1,000 millisieverts and includes nausea and vomiting.
Sturdier robots can remove some of the debris, but workers are needed to test the integrity of the equipment and carry out electrical repairs needed to restore the cooling systems as called for in the road map, Yoshizawa said.“What robots can do is limited, so eventually, people must enter the buildings,” TEPCO official Takeshi Makigami said.