In Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe, Where Are Japan's Robots?

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Emergency workers at the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe are showing the same heroic self-sacrifice as their counterparts at Chernobyl, according to the New York Post.

But that was a quarter-century ago, in a technologically stagnating Soviet Union. Robots were developed for the Chernobyl cleanup in the late 1990s, and Japan for years has been a global leader in emergency robots. Yet Reuters reports:

While Japan is renowned for its cutting edge technology, it also maintains an anachronistic element in its society that relies on humans for tasks that have given way to automation in many other parts of the world, such as operating elevators and warning motorists of road construction.

In one of Japan's worst nuclear accidents, two workers were killed in September 1999, when workers at a nuclear facility in Tokaimura, northeast of Tokyo, set off an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction by using buckets to mix nuclear fuel in a lab.

The two faces of Japan -- competitive and dynamic global industrial superpower and bastion of bureaucratic-corporate networks -- seem less and less compatible as the human tragedy unfolds.

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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center and holds a Ph.D in European history. More

Edward Tenner is an independent writer and speaker on the history of technology and the unintended consequences of innovation. He holds a Ph.D. in European history from the University of Chicago and was executive editor for physical science and history at Princeton University Press. A former member of the Harvard Society of Fellows and John Simon Guggenheim fellow, he has been a visiting lecturer at Princeton and has held visiting research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy. He is now an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center, where he remains a senior research associate.

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