Within about 16 hours after the massive earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Dai’ichi nuclear power complex on the northeastern coast of Japan, two NRC reactor experts were throwing a few changes of clothing into suitcases and racing for the airport. They hit the ground in Tokyo with a single purpose – provide key technical support and advice to the U.S. Embassy.
Just over two days later, the vanguard of what has become a revolving team of more than 30 staff were on their way, including Chuck Casto, deputy regional administrator out of our Region II office. They were part of a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance mission launched in response to a request for help from the Japanese government.
Now, over three weeks into this terrible tragedy for the Japanese people, the team of NRC experts is working closely with our counterparts in the Japanese government, as well as the power plant operator – TEPCO – other U.S. government agencies, and even the U.S. private sector.
We have received tremendous support from the embassy and USAID staff as we’ve taken over a chunk of the embassy’s space as a base of operations and demand all manner of IT support, but we never seem to spend long there. Every day we are off in small groups to various locations around Tokyo to meet with our Japanese counterparts, gathering information on the most current understanding of conditions at the plant and the actions being taken by the Japanese.
When we get back to the embassy, we get on the phone to experts back in the states and obtain their best consensus view of the actions needed to stabilize the plants. Then we are off around Tokyo again to share and discuss our advice and recommendations. In addition to this, we are supporting project teams established by the Japanese government to develop long-term plans for clean-up and decommissioning of the site after it is stabilized. In this latter effort, we are receiving tremendous support from colleagues in the Department of Energy and the national labs.
When we are at the embassy, we are also working closely with the embassy staff, USAID, and other federal agencies to respond to the specific requests for assistance from the Japanese government. For example, we have supported them with provision of a back-up supply of freshwater and pumping capacity to ensure that stable and sustainable cooling will be available at the plant. Through the generosity of the U.S. nuclear industry, we have been able to supply thousands of sets of protective clothing, radiation dosimeters and radiation monitoring equipment that will be important to ensuring protection of the workers at the site.
What has impressed all of us on the NRC team is the commitment of our Japanese counterparts to bring this very serious situation under control. Japan has long used nuclear power as a mainstay of its electrical generation system, so they have lots of experience.
This is a near overwhelming event that would challenge any nation, and I have been impressed at the effort being exerted by those most affected by this tragedy.
The nuclear community around the world is, in relative terms, small, and our thoughts are with the Japanese people and, in particular, with the workers at the site. Many of them have already suffered grievous loss of family and property from the earthquake and tsunami. They labor on in difficult conditions. The world has rallied to their aid, contributing protective clothing and equipment.
Our team in Japan continues to work with the Japanese government to ensure they have the resources to support and protect these workers. These are the true heroes of Fukushima Dai’ichi and they deserve our utmost respect, our fervent prayers and our continued support.
Thanks to Chuck Casto who contributed to this post.
NRC Japan Team Member