A team of scientists from the University of Bristol in the UK, together with Ukrainian researchers and engineers, have boldly ventured into the bowels of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to complete new radiation mapping research. To add a touch more post-apocalyptic flavor to the project, a Boston Dynamics dog robot joined them on their trip to test out its radiation "sniffing" skills.
The central aim of this visit was to further explore the value of autonomous and semi-autonomous robots to detect radiation in high-radiation environments and assess the residual radiological hazards still present in the power plant’s ruins. One of the devices was the notorious robot dog “Spot” developed by Boston Dynamics, armed with radiation sensing equipment.
As for the humans on the project, they also toured much of the safer parts of the nuclear power plant, including the now-infamous control room of Reactor 4 where the disaster originated.
“To actually venture inside the control room of the failed reactor was a tense and yet exhilarating experience," Professor Tom Scott, Lead researcher, from the University of Bristol and Co-Director of Robotics and AI in Nuclear (RAIN), said in a statement.
On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant became the site of the largest nuclear accident in history. The accident occurred during a safety test on the steam turbine of one of the nuclear reactors. The experiment, however, was riddled with mismanagement, run by inadequately trained personnel, and skimped on the vital safety precautions. An uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction occurred, sparking explosions and the release of a huge amount of airborne radioactive contamination. Still to this day, the Ukrainian Government is working on the dismantling project and the decommissioning of the power station.
Given the high levels of harmful radiation still present at the site, a clean-up crew of robots has its obvious advantages. However, until recently, the technology has simply not been available. Now its decommissioning has entered a new phase, this new project has aimed to demonstrate how robots and autonomous radiation mapping systems could be used to safely bring the final chapter of the power plant to a close.
“Robots can make nuclear decommissioning faster, cheaper and more importantly, safer,” added Professor Scott.
“Importantly, this scientific data will inform future planning for the eventual removal of fuel-containing material from the Shelter facility and will ultimately aid Chernobyl’s transformation – and the area surrounding it - into an environmentally safe place,” continued Dr Maxim Saveliev, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Safety Problems of Nuclear Power Plants (ISPNPP) in Ukraine.