Unmanned Copter To Measure Fukushima Radiation

Japan has pressed into service an unmanned helicopter to measure radiation levels within a three-kilometer radius of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where detailed studies have not been conducted since the accident last year.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency decided to use the unmanned chopper as it does not come under aviation law which bans airplane flights within a three-kilometer radius of nuclear plants, Japanese media reported on Wednesday.

The helicopter covers a one-kilometer square area in two hours, and will be able to measure radiation levels over inaccessible mountains and forests.

The drone flies at an altitude between 30 to 100 meters and has the advantage of accurately determining the locations of the so-called radiation "hot spots." Radiation data is directly transmitted from the chopper to a personal computer and plotted on a map, color-coded according to radiation levels. The agency plans to compile a report by the end of the month.

The United States had carried out an aerial survey immediately after the Fukushima accident and handed over a radiation map to the Japanese government, but the latter concealed it from the public.

The March 11, 2011 accident at the Fukushima plant, operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), sent radioactive materials into the ocean and atmosphere, contaminated food and water supply, and forced the evacuation of 160,000 residents in a 30-kilometer radius of the plant. Efforts are still on to decommission its four reactors whose cooling systems were knocked out in the massive tsunami, triggering meltdowns and radiation leaks in the worst atomic disaster since the Chernobil accident of 1986.

Most of Japan's 50-odd nuclear reactors are remaining idle since the accident as the country's nuclear regulator insisted on stricter safety reviews.

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