In the aftermath of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan’s Honshu Island in 2011, primary power and cooling systems at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were knocked offline. Three of the reactors melted within the first three days, mainly as a result of flooding from the nearly 50-foot tidal wave generated by the earthquake. And in the months that followed, an estimated 600 tons of radioactive fuel leaked from storage units. The reactors are expected to take 30 to 40 years to decommission.
Inspecting damaged nuclear plants poses a unique challenge. Radiation inside one of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors was recorded at 73 sieverts, more than 7 times the fatal dose. (Ten sieverts would kill most people exposed to it within weeks.) That’s why researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP Lab and New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering propose that