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

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, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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