What appears to be a lump of melted nuclear fuel is discernible in a photo, released late last month, of the interior of the crippled No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The high radiation level inside the reactor would be lethal to humans so a small robot was expected to start inspecting the interior on Feb. 16. (The robot started inspection around 7:50 a.m.)

The robot is marked with the name TOSHIBA.

While leading the nation in the dismantling of nuclear reactors, Toshiba Corp. has aggressively pursued nuclear power plant construction overseas through its U.S. affiliate.

But on Feb. 14, the company announced a projected loss of 712.5 billion yen ($6.3 billion) in its nuclear business. To survive, Toshiba will have to sell off its profitable businesses piecemeal. To be sure, the company is in for massive restructuring.

The 2011 nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant was one of the indirect causes of Toshiba's losses. Around the world, tighter regulations have been applied to nuclear power plants because of safety concerns, and Toshiba's four nuclear plant construction projects in the United States became far more costly than anticipated.

The company has only itself to blame for underestimating the consequences of the Fukushima disaster.

I dropped in at the Toshiba Science Museum in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture, the other day. Its impressive array of exhibits included Japan's first electric refrigerator, washing machine and vacuum cleaner. There was even a portable personal computer, said to be the first of its kind in the world.

Once a prestigious corporation that boasted cutting-edge technology, I wonder how long Toshiba's decline will continue.

Overseas, Siemens AG of Germany withdrew from the nuclear business after the Fukushima accident, and France's Areva SA is said to be struggling.

Toshiba's massive losses remind us anew that the end is drawing near on the era of lucrative nuclear businesses.

A long, tough road lies ahead for the decommissioning of Fukushima's nuclear reactors. I feel for Toshiba workers who are engaged in this task while their company languishes.

It will soon be six years since the Fukushima disaster. The days of having to confront the gravity of that accident are far from over.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 16

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.