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U.S. sending robots to help at Japan N-plant Likely to be used in high radiation

The U.S. government is sending some robotic help to Japan to help regain control of the tsunami-damaged nuclear plant.

A top Energy Department official told a Senate panel Tuesday that a shipment of "radiation-hardened robotics" will be sent to Japan to assist in the crisis. A spokeswoman said a robotic device from the Energy Department's Idaho National Laboratory is being shipped to Japan along with several radiation-hardened cameras.

Peter Lyons, an acting assistant energy secretary, said Japanese officials were "very, very interested" in learning more about the capabilities of U.S robots.

The United States is also sending robot operators who would be used to train Japanese operators, Lyons said.

Robots with electronics built to withstand radiation could presumably work in areas where radiation levels would harm or even kill a person. Workers at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi plant have been exposed to high levels of radiation and burned.

Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said remote-controlled robotic machines have been used to conduct environmental cleanup and other activities in contaminated environments, although not at compromised nuclear reactors such as the ones in Japan.

The devices being shipped to Japan are equipped to provide visuals, radiological surveys and mapping data in areas of the plant that are not accessible to humans due to potential elevated radiation levels that are above recommended safety guidelines.

In addition to the robots, the Energy Department has sent about 40 employees and more than 17,000 pounds of equipment to Japan, Lyons said.

Meanwhile, Japan's government admitted Tuesday that its safeguards were insufficient to protect the nuclear plant against the earthquake and tsunami that crippled the facility and caused it to spew radiation. The government vowed to overhaul safety standards.

"Our preparedness was not sufficient," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told reporters. "When the current crisis is over, we must examine the accident closely and thoroughly review" the safety standards.

An Associated Press investigation found that officials on plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. had dismissed scientific evidence and geological history that indicated a massive earthquake -- and subsequent tsunami -- was far more likely than they believed.

The mission to stabilize the power plant has been fraught with setbacks, as emergency crews have dealt with fires, explosions and radiation scares in the frantic bid to prevent a complete meltdown.

Workers succeeded last week in reconnecting some parts of the plant to the power grid. But as they pumped in water to cool the reactors and nuclear fuel rods, they discovered numerous pools of radioactive water, including in the basements of several buildings and in trenches outside.

The contaminated water has been emitting four times as much radiation as the government considers safe for workers. It must be pumped out before electricity can be restored and the regular cooling systems powered up.

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