Robo-cop conjures up images of a futuristic landscape where crime is so out of hand that robots have to replace the police for dangerous urban warfare-type missions. But what if the danger was invisible radiation, the mission protecting cities, and the robots were the only ones around? Robo-cop — now becomes Geiger-bot. And, a California visionary named Bill Li recently created just such a thing. The timing is extraordinary, because those who heard the dire warning issued for the west coast a few months ago by Dr David Suzuki, one of Canada’s top environmental scientists, have undoubtedly already wondered about this giant hole in homeland security too, as we attempt to be as forward-thinking and pro-active as downwinders can possibly be, trapped in the epic and ongoing nuclear sh*tstorm known as the Fukushima accident.
Downwinders refers to individuals and communities who are exposed to radioactive contamination or nuclear fallout from atmospheric or underground weapons testing and accidents. The term can also include those communities and individuals who are exposed to ionizing radiation and other emissions due to the regular production and maintenance of nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and nuclear waste, including the occasional, ahem, fire. In regions near U.S. nuclear sites, downwinders may be exposed to releases of radioactive materials into the environment that contaminate their groundwater systems, food chains, and the air they breathe. The japanese word for downwinder or ‘explosion-affected people’ is Hibakusha. We are all Hibakusha now, thanks to the Fukushima accident. But our level of Hibakusha-ness is yet to be determined, and will take years if not decades to figure out, thanks to the mysterious and private inner-circle of the nuclear industry, corporate controlled scientists, and dishonest politicians who like to keep the public-at-large generally oblivious and unaware of such scary realities, especially when those realities involve the future of nuclear energy.
This real and rarely discussed problem that Dr Suzuki was eluding to, is that basically at any time Fukushima could get a million times worse. People who have been following the accident closely have already known this for almost 3 years now. Reference the amount of spent fuel stored on site, for an idea of the level of f*ckdom that could occur, after another mishap at the plant. All logistics aside, it is potentially the biggest ticking time bomb in human history. The damaged plant is in no condition to withstand another massive earthquake or tsunami. The tsunami flooded the plant, cut off power, and the meltdowns were underway. They continue to this day, and are unapproachable and unfixable. The plant’s defenses are far less, and conditions are far worse, then they were in March of 2011.
Occasionally, a scientist actually comments something honest, noteworthy and public about Fukushima Fallout, a real rarity these days. On November 7th of 2013, Dr. David Suzuki stunned the audience when he described what will happen if a massive quake hits Japan again, in light of the ongoing disaster.
“It’s bye bye Japan, and everybody on the West Coast of North America should evacuate,” Suzuki said. “Now if that isn’t terrifying, I don’t know what is.”
However, what Dr Suzuki neglected to mention is that there are several other ongoing problems at Fukushima which are all equally terrifying, and all a result of the last big earthquake — we don’t even need a new one to get the evacuation ball rolling. The missing melted cores. The sinking reactor buildings. Damaged fuel being pulled from damaged roof-top pools. Highly contaminated water that leaks out of hastily built storage vessels, everywhere. Highly contaminated water in basements and underground tunnels. Hotspots of 10-100 Sieverts or higher, insta-fry levels for humans and robots alike. The endless pouring of cooling water that contributes further to the problems, and creates others. Since there is no existing technology to fix really any of these problems and the countless others I’m not even mentioning, TEPCO humans have to manage the pouring, leaking, and moving of stuff on their own, to make it appear to the rest of the world that they are actually doing something to fix the situation overall, which they aren’t. And all this while avoiding the insta-fry spots, which are being found with greater frequency, much to the dismay of the plant workers (and probably the robots too, if they could talk). Suzuki has to know this. Apparently he didn’t have the time or energy to get into it further. Because the fact of the matter is, if radiation levels continue to skyrocket at the site, it’s really just a matter of time before humans will not be able to work there, regardless of the cause. Which leads to evacuation of Fuku, which leads to another huge radiological release, which leads to bye bye Japan, and which leads to the dreaded west coast evacuation scenario. However, it wouldn’t be just the west coast that would need to be evacuated…but in the interest of staying on topic, we’ll save that discussion for another day.
Lately, things have been rough at Fuku. TEPCO is clearly over their heads in managing the numerous difficulties, and has even stated so publicly. Attempts at creating robots to deal directly with Fuku rads have been disappointing, as they were during the Chernobyl accident. The Soviets used about 60 remote-controlled robots, most of them manufactured domestically within the U.S.S.R. Although several designs were eventually able to contribute to the cleanup, most of the robots quickly succumbed to the effects of high levels of radiation on delicate electronics. Even those machines that could operate in high-radiation environments often failed after being doused with water in an effort to decontaminate them. Obviously the radiation levels on the west coast wouldn’t be near what they are at Fukushima. But they could, in an apocalyptic scenario as proposed by Dr Suzuki and other experts, be high enough that people couldn’t live there for an indeterminate amount of time. Which is why the timely introduction of these newest California Geiger-bots caught my attention. How do we secure our homeland, houses, and large areas that are uninhabitable under such conditions? Especially very valuable (at least for now) oceanfront property? Bill Li, whether intentionally or not, had the answer. The possible future-west-coast-security-savior was recently introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show 2014, and his name is K-5.
In a bid to make local communities safer, and give local law enforcement agencies more ‘tools to fight crime’, California-based Knightscope recently unveiled a line of K-5 robots that it believes will “predict and prevent crime with an innovative combination of hardware, software and social engagement.”
At 300 pounds, the five-foot unit can patrol a neighborhood, and uses a built-in laser to form a 3D map of the surrounding area in 270-degree sweeps. It has 4 built-in cameras, infra-red, night vision, GPS, Optical Character Recognition, proximity sensors, and best of all: a super-fancy on-board Geiger counter. It also detects biological and chemical threats.
“Data collected through these sensors is processed through our predictive analytics engine, combined with existing business, government and crowdsourced social data sets, and subsequently assigned an alert level that determines when the community and the authorities should be notified of a concern,” the company’s website states.
The main objective of this new device is to monitor and secure locations…an impossibility for humans in the event of a west coast evacuation due to nuclear fallout. With Geiger-bot, not only do you have some boots on the ground rolling through the streets taking rad measurements and keeping an electronic eye on things, but they won’t die of a nasty radiation-related illnesses later on, like the Hibakusha tend to do.
Of course the fact that robots could patrol now as part of daily law enforcement activities doesn’t sound comforting to everyone, even without the Fukushima doom scenario component. The thought of these robots are weirding people out, bigtime. Civil liberties advocates are wary of warrantless surveillance, especially in light of the domestic spying done by the National Security Agency. For now, the discussion focuses on these robots sharing the city sidewalks and parks with humans, and the debate surrounding K-5 units will probably be generated for some time. But in the future, should a west coast evacuation become necessary if Fukushima burns to the ground, K-5 can help Homeland Security patrol the streets without fallout concerns, and use them to map the incoming radiation plumes. Like they did with the ships involved in Operation Tomodachi, when they instructed the entire 7th Fleet to sail up and down the coast of Japan, following explosions and high radiation levels blowing offshore. Too bad the ships were loaded with US Navy sailors, many who are now seriously sick and suing TEPCO, and not Geiger-bots, instead.
“Clearly, this kind of surveillance technology has an unbounded capacity to collect personal information that a single patrol officer doesn’t,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center, said to USA Today. ” These are the same concerns we’re facing with CCTV and Google’s mapping cars. Laws need to be updated to acknowledge these technologies, and companies, in turn, need to act responsibly.”
It would also be nice if laws were also updated to eliminate any technology that currently exists, that has no technology to fix itself once it goes bad, such as when a nuke plant accident occurs. This would be, after all, the ultimate act, of “acting responsibly”.
But since we don’t seem to have anyone who is interested in doing so, we can just roll out the Geiger-bots, instead.