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Egg-sized robot to scan danger in aging nuke plants

In the aftermath of the radiation leak at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant MIT engineers are working on an egg-sized robot that could help contain contamination should nuclear facilities suffer similar accidents in the U.S.

The idea for the egg-size device, described here, is being developed by MIT's Harry Asada, the director of MIT's d'Arbeloff Laboratory for Information Systems and Technology. The threat is not remote. Leaks were recently found to exist at three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites.="http:>

"We have 104 reactors in this country," said Asada. "Fifty-two of them are 30 years or older, and we need immediate solutions to assure the safe operations of these reactors."

As sketched out in the MIT paper, the robot would traverse a reactor's pipes, photographing the interior with an onboard camera as it carries out inspections of possible corrosion that might be dangerously porous to the point where it would let radiation leak out and contaminate groundwater. The robot would move without the help of any mechanisms on its exterior, such as propellers or rudders, according to Asada, who said that such "appendages," commonly found in autonomous underwater vehicles, would be too likely to get stuck in a reactor's network of pipes and joints. "You would have to shut down the plant just to get the robot out," he said. "So we had to make [our design] extremely fail-safe."

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