The robots used at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan are failing due to the high levels of radiation. The meltdown was triggered during the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. It's too much even for these specially hardened scorpion bots, as seen in the following video.
(Fukushima scorpion robots radiation fail)
The radiation levels on the site are far higher than any human could possibly survive, so engineers are using purpose-built “scorpion” robots with cameras attached to survey the scale of the damage.
The latest attempt to harvest data on Fukushima failed after a robot designed by Toshiba to withstand high radiation levels died five times faster than expected.
The robot was supposed to be able to cope with 73 sieverts of radiation, but the radiation level inside the reactor was recently recorded at 530 sieverts.
A single dose of one sievert is enough to cause radiation sickness and nausea; 5 sieverts would kill half those exposed to it within a month, and a single dose of 10 sieverts would prove fatal within weeks.
Radiation-proof robots have been recommended by science fiction writers ever since the dawn of the cold war. In his classic 1953 story The Defenders, Philip K. Dick describes leadies:
Now the surface was a lethal desert of slag and rolling clouds. Endless clouds drifted back and forth, blotting out the red Sun. Occasionally something metallic stirred, moving through the remains of a city, threading its way across the tortured terrain of the countryside. A leady, a surface robot, immune to radiation, constructed with feverish haste in the last months before the cold war became literally hot.
(Read more about Philip K. Dick's leady)
A year earlier, science fiction fan and sometimes writer Mari Wolf describes lead-bodied androids in her 1952 story Robots of the World! Arise!:
I'd designed the androids myself, plotted out the pile locations, set up the simplified reactors. And now it was making money. For men to work in a uranium plant you need yards of shielding, triple-checking, long cooling-off periods for some of the hotter products. But with lead-bodied, radio-remote controlled androids, it's easier.
(Read more about Mari Wolf's lead-bodied androids)
As so often happens, I have to give sf Grandmaster Robert Heinlein his due and mention the waldo from his 1942 novella of the same name (using his pseudonym Anson MacDonald). The country's nascent nuclear industry liked the idea, and actually created similar devices to deal with nuclear material - they liked the name, too.