Japan: Fukushima robot operator publishes tell-all diaries and videos, now offline

IEEE Spectrum reports on a pseudonymous/anonymous tell-all blog written by a Fukushima Daiichi cleanup worker whose job is to operate robots (actually, iRobot robots) at the tsunami- and quake-damaged, radioactivity-spewing power plant in Japan. The IEEE Spectrum item includes complete English language translations of some of the whistleblower's blog posts, all of which are now offline. This is a must-read.

The worker known as "S.H." wrote about the hazardous, chaotic, high-radiation environment in which he and other workers deploy remote-controlled robots "to assist with efforts to further stabilize and shut down the plant’s four troubled reactors." Snip from IEEE Spectrum:

The blog posts, which have recently been deleted, depict the operators’ extensive robot training exercises, as well actual missions, including surveying damage and contamination in and around the reactors and improvising a robotic vacuum to suck up radioactive dust. The author, who goes by the initials S.H., also used the blog to vent his frustrations with inept supervisors and unreasonable schedules, though he maintains a sense of humor, describing in one post how he punched a hole on a wall while driving a robot and, in another entry, how a drunken worker slept in his room by mistake.

The material also raises questions about whether Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the plant’s owner, is acting with adequate speed and providing enough robots and supporting resources for the robot teams. It's ironic that, although the robots are remote controlled, the operators still have to work close to the highly damaged and radioactive reactors. There is no communications infrastructure, combining wired and wireless capabilities, that would allow the operators to do their work from a safer location.

Other problems, described by S.H. in some entries, include a lack of coordination and, on at least one occasion, neglect for the workers’ safety. In one incident, a technician not part of the robot team recklessly put a robotic mission in jeopardy, driving a truck over a tether and nearly severing the connection between the robot and the operators. S.H also reports that one day his personal dosimeter began sounding an alarm and wouldn’t stop; when he asked a radiation personnel in charge about it, he was told ignore it and continue working.

The contents of the blog are available on Google's cache. A Japanese researcher has also republished some of the posts on his site. "S.H." also published about an hour's worth of video on YouTube documenting training exercises with the iRobot PackBot and Warrior robots, but the videos have since been made private.

"While the videos were publicly available, I used a program to capture snippets, which I used to put together my own video," writes IEEE Spectrum's Erico Guizzo. "We believe we’re making fair use of the snippets, using them as documentation of the training process, which is a newsworthy event. Note that our video shows only brief moments of what might have been many hours of training and it probably doesn't reflect the operators' current skill levels. The video also includes some candid moments, such as when a worker takes a ride on a Warrior robot."


  1. What is happening there worries me for the people cleaning up, and the people of Japan as a whole.
    It is obvious there were more problems than anyone wanted to see before the accident, and it seems that they are covering up what is actually happening in the clean up.  They are using the cultural viewpoint there to get people to risk themselves when they could do more to protect them.

    It is worrisome that the only unofficial view of whats happening is now gone, and I am sure they have clamped down even further to prevent the outside world for learning anything not filtered for public consumption.

  2. A corporate entity that doesn’t care about the safety of its workers without strict government oversight? omg.

    1. And the Government oversight isn’t coming because they assume the business would not be dishonorable in that way.  Given the sheer number of wrongs leading up to this at what point do you stop worrying if you insult the company and come down on them like a ton of bricks?

  3. remember these are the same people that would rather plow a monorail through an office building then admit that they’re running late.

  4. This is no different than the issues I read about concerning the BP oil spill or WTC cleanup or any other disaster recovery operation that uses civilian labour under corporate management but it will get more temporary drama attention because this time it’s nuclear rather than chemical.
    It doesn’t help that this is a task that should be done in a methodical manner which is time consuming and there are screaming factions that want it all fixed and safe as of yesterday.

  5. First, the author is not a whistleblower. Google defines a whistleblower as an informant who exposes wrongdoing within an organization in the hope of stopping it. It wasn’t all praise, but there were no reports of ethical violations.  The one you reference most prominently comes from the following three sentences from the blog: 
    > One of my dosimeter’s alarms began to go off and would not stop right before we began working. When I asked one of the radiation management personnel who was with us about my dosimeter, he said that I was given one for which the settings had been incorrectly configured.
    > He said, “There is nothing wrong with it, so please continue your work.” 
    > So, I did!
    I see no reason to read something deeper into this exchange.  
    Second, the IEEE summaries are not the complete text of the articles. The description reads: Below are portions excerpted from nearly 50 robot-related posts … Some sections (marked with […]) were omitted for clarity or space.

  6. “quake-damaged, radioactivity-spewing”. “nightmarish world of high radiation”
    Tabloid exaggeration, much?

    This is an important issue, with real people’s health and welfare at stake, not to mention important implications for energy production and the global environment. Although the referenced blog is probably genuine, just because
    someone posts something online doesn’t make it true, just as deletion
    doesn’t mean cover-up. Boingboing is usually a haven of (relatively) measured debate, accuracy and balance. Such sub-Fox News shouting does us all a disservice, and devalues the information that the blogger is releasing. 

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