Robots have started peering around inside the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. That represents a major step toward stabilizing Japan's heavily damaged reactors, as Geoff Brumfiel reports:
The robots were built by the Massachusetts company iRobot and are usually used by the military to investigate bombs. They're small vehicles with a single claw for poking around. The ones that entered the reactor buildings are specially equipped with cameras and radiation detectors, which can give workers a better idea about conditions inside.
That data the robots are gathering will be crucial in bringing the damaged reactors under control. The plant's owner says it hopes to stabilize the reactors within six to nine months. Workers are developing improved systems to keep the nuclear fuel cool, and are planning temporary structures over the reactors to limit the spread of radiation.
Update at 2:20 p.m. ET: Not terribly surprising, but worth noting: the robots found radiation levels "way too high" for humans, Geoff Brumfiel reports for NPR.