The use of ground-based robotic systems for the characterisation of nuclear environments is reviewed. Almost since the dawn of the nuclear energy industry, man has somewhat inadvertently created environments in which access has been constrained primarily due to the risk posed by extreme levels of radiation exposure but also due to space constraints, and because of toxic and combustible atmospheres. Robotic systems pose an ideal solution to some of these difficulties, removing the need for humans to access such places and frequently providing data on the state of such places that would not otherwise be available. However, each of these requirements is often very different in terms of the specification of a given robot, and the detailed characteristics of a given harsh environment can pose significant challenges even for the most robust of platforms. Furthermore, such developments can be expensive in terms of cost and development time. These issues notwithstanding, robotic solutions to nuclear challenges are reaching a level of maturity where their use is destined to add significant value. This paper considers the salient developments in ground-based solutions from the era preceding the Three Mile Island accident, through Chernobyl and on to the present day and, in particular, the needs of Fukushima Daiichi as attentions turn to this complex robotic suite of challenges.