Trial by meltdown

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Science  04 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6277, pp. 1020-1021
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6277.1020

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After a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami waves struck Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on 11 March 2011, triggering meltdowns at three reactors, engineers were desperate to learn about the state of the damaged reactors' cores and the radiation levels inside the buildings. But none of Japan's vaunted robots were up to the challenge. Five years after the accident, however, robots are finally ready to enter the ruined reactors en masse. They are now expected to play an essential part in the herculean task of decontaminating and dismantling the reactors. Roboticists are making halting progress in developing machines for specific tasks, such as decontaminating and removing melted nuclear fuel masses, but they know that their creations need to be adaptable.