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Virtual practice for real disasters

March 12, 2012 | Hogan Keyser
virtual_preparedness_disaster_practice.jpgRPI research centers on how to keep repair crews safe in a nuclear catastrophe

March 8, 2012 by Brian Nearing via
-- TROY -- When the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan began to melt down last year after being struck by a tsunami, technicians entered damaged radioactive areas to attempt repairs without knowing exactly what they would face.

But what if those workers had a virtual reality system based on the plant, including areas that had become dangerously radioactive, and could have first practiced repairs in safety before exposing themselves to potentially lethal missteps?

Such a system is the goal of research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Progress is being watched with interest by an industry group representing nuclear plant owners, the Electric Power Research Institute.

"The nuclear industry is catching up with the use of virtual reality, which can be used to visualize an environment, both during a crisis or during normal operations," said George Xu, head of RPI's Radiation Measurement & Dosimetry Group.

As the Fukushima plant spiraled toward meltdown, some workers volunteered to enter damaged areas to make critical repairs without knowing how much radiation they might be exposed to.

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