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Pioneer Helps With Chernobyl Clean-Up

066-1A reactor at Chernobyl Unit 4 in Ukraine exploded in April 1986, releasing into the environ- ment radiation that killed 32 people and poisoned countless others in the world’s worst nuclear accident. The reactor core was destroyed and the reactor building suffered extensive damage.

In the late ‘90s, Carnegie Mellon and RedZone Robotics joined the Department of Energy (DoE), NASA, Westinghouse and the University of Iowa to develop a U.S.-built robotic remote reconnaissance system, known as “Pioneer,” to inspect and assess structural damage at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. The project included researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Intelligent Mechanisms Group at NASA’s Ames Research Center, DoE’s Lawrence Livermore and Pacific Northwest national laboratories, the University of Iowa’s

Graphical Representation of Knowledge (GROK) Laboratory and Westinghouse Electric Corporation’s Science & Technology Center.

Pioneer deploys sensors and sampling equipment and includes a bulldozer blade for displacing and removing radioactive debris, and a mapper for creating photorealistic 3D models of the building’s interior. The system also includes a core borer for cutting and retrieving samples of structural materials and a group of radiation and environmental sensors. The system is modular so that components can be replaced easily while workers are in radiation protection suits. It’s modeled after a machine developed by RedZone that is cleaning up nuclear waste storage tanks for the DoE at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.066-2

“Pioneer is the first offering of Western robotic technology to assess the damaged site at Chernobyl,” said Maynard Holliday, then programmatic lead on the project at Lawrence Livermore, and a member of the DoE’s Nuclear Material Security Task Force. “This is the best we have to offer—radiation hardened compo- nents and a 3D vision system that will render visually realistic images.” Photo and description courtesy of the US Department of Energy, NASA and the members of the consortium supporting the project: see