Japan: A view from one year later

It is hard to believe that one year has passed since the tragedy in Japan on Friday, March 11, 2011.

The actual earthquake and ensuing tsunami occurred in the middle of the night in this time zone, and the first call I received was early Friday morning notifying me of the event. Two reactors on the West Coast had declared what we call an “Unusual Event,” based on a tsunami warning.

By the time I got to my office, many NRC staff were in the NRC Operations Center analyzing whatever data they could gather in order to offer a helping hand. The public affairs staff was communicating to the American people about our monitoring actions, which early on were focused on the tsunami’s possible impact on the US. Fortunately, the tidal surge noted on the West Coast later that day was less than 3 feet.

By late Friday, it became clear that we needed experienced NRC staff on the ground in Japan. We dispatched our first staff the next day. More than a dozen individuals would follow in the months ahead. They now tell interesting stories about their time in Japan, like being shaken in their bed every half hour by aftershocks, each stronger than the Virginia earthquake we experienced in August. As the official spokesperson for the agency, what followed for me were repeated calls and trips to the White House and Capitol Hill, as well as media briefings for the national and international press.

We also began working with other federal agencies to coordinate our response, and prepare to provide whatever assistance we could. Based on the information available later that day, it was clear that four of the reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi would be a significant challenge, having lost all electrical power necessary to run their cooling systems. The magnitude of the reactor damage was visually evident a few days later when explosions rocked the station.

Two weeks after the event, the NRC established a Task Force to conduct a review and make recommendations to the Commission in light of lessons learned from the accident. Their findings were published in July, and we are moving forward to implement additional safety measures.

In the end, hundreds of NRC staff members volunteered to become hands-on responders to the event – including those who traveled to Japan to provide assistance – and hundreds more took on additional duties to keep our important domestic safety and security work on track. I am proud of the dedication and commitment displayed by all of them in the months after March 11.

We know that the people of Japan are strong, and that they will adapt and overcome. I am inspired by their resiliency, their progress in removing debris and rebuilding, and most of all, their ability to look forward.

Gregory Jaczko
Chairman, NRC

Author: Moderator

Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

8 thoughts on “Japan: A view from one year later”

  1. Fukushima Lessons to be Learned (LTBL)

    What were the lessons to be learned (LTBL) from Fukushima?
    Is there a list somewhere? Who has it?

    Lesson to be Learned #1 (LTBL1): An event that can happen to one unit at a site can happen to all of the units at the site, especially when the causation is common.

    (Previously it was assumed that an event would only happen at one unit.)

    Lesson to be Learned #2 (LTBL2): A natural event that happened before can happen again.
    (Evidence of a previous tsunami above the elevation of vital equipment was ignored.)

    Lesson to be Learned #3 (LTBL3): A natural event is accompanied by other natural events and phenomena.
    (The Fukushima units were designed for a certain severity of earthquake, but not for the tsunamis that were known to be concomitant with it.)

    Lesson to be Learned #4 (LTBL4): Ground water and surface water pick up contamination when their flows encounter it.
    (The Fukushima plants were not designed for the groundwater and/or surface water situation. This resulted in the infamous “Ice Wall” and in radioactive water flowing into the ocean.)

    Lesson to be Learned #5(LTBL5): An accident at one nuclear power plant can reveal unacceptable weaknesses at all nuclear power plants.
    (After the Fukushima event, most, if not all, commercial nuclear power plants worldwide made mandatory and/or voluntary upgrades to correct weaknesses that pre-existed the Fukushima event.)

    Lesson to be Learned #6 (LTBL6): The absence of concerns by corporate, industry, national, and international oversight and regulatory bodies is not evidence of competence, integrity, compliance, or transparency.
    (Before the earthquake and tsunami oversight and regulatory bodies were silent or approving of the TEPCO situation.)

    Lesson to be Learned #7 (LTBL7): An accident at one nuclear power plant results in revelations that many nuclear power plants are not in compliance with pre-existing regulatory requirements.
    (After the Fukushima event many nuclear power plants were found to have nonconforming flood barriers. One egregious case is Arkansas Nuclear One, at which nonconforming flood barriers were found even after they had been checked pursuant to post-Fukushima requirements.)

    What are the other lessons to be learned (LTBL)?

  2. In March of last year I was deployed there through the Navy for decon efforts. I could not believe the Japanese people, they would be up at 5am to bring us warm meals and gifts. We would be in towns that had been completely leveled and they would still greet us, tell us thank you, and shake every single persons hand. I have been to Japan may times but through such devastation they still proved how amazing their culture is. When we deployed to New Orleans after Katrina our helicopters were mobbed and our vehicles attacked. Its just amazes me to see the difference between how we handle catastrophe and how other countries handle it.

  3. It is hard to imagine that a year has passed since that fateful day in Japan. I believe this incident truely put the spotlight on countries that uses nuclear power the true hazards & risks that are involved.Nations of the world will have an opportunity to adopt new regulations, etc to their nuclear policies. Unfortuntately, it took massive destruction and thousands of lives to bring upon that change. In the future, we must be prepared for natural diasters like this; and don’t wait to implement changes to systems that have the potential of crippling our economy. Be prepared and test the systems vital to our livelihood so if a mother nature unleashes another powerful attack, we have a better chance of survival.

  4. PS: I am glad the people of Japan are looking foward, but they are doing it with a sense of fear a distrust in their government. Sadly their suffering was needed to wake the world up to the lack of leadership and political manipulations that allow this trainwreck to continue. We here in the US will be looking forward as soon as we can stop looking behind us at the train barreling down the tracks at us.
    Medical waste is better dealt with than spent fuel.
    Do something or admit you have failed.

  5. I agree. Junk Science at best.
    The Fort Calhoun fiasco was just a reminder. As the ABC News showed the picture of a flood-surrounded Nuclear Power Plant with P. Jennings telling us “no big deal, just a rumor on the internet”. NRC was doing exactly nothing, including responding to my email for information the day before. After contacting the IAEA I began to get answers, and action, for the people who asked me to look into it.
    Jazko cannot possibly believe that his late visit to the plant, along with all of the lies that we have been told about RADnet, melt-downs off-shore, and the risks to our own plants, are putting him in a good light. If he can even see light from the dark hole he should be in. The Nuclear Industry in this country is a death wish with the lack of action taken. Threaten to turn off the lights if Congress doesn’t solve the used waste issue. GET A BACKBONE!
    As far as the Obama Branch of the Bankers of America – I unsubscribed with a nice educational note about the Bill of Rights.

  6. Greg Jaczko has lost all credibility and I hope he will do the honorable thing and resign. However, judging by the friends he keeps (Reid, Chu, and Barack “our decisions will be based on science” Obama), there is not much hope of that. In retrospect, perhaps the Yucca Mt. decisions were pased on science…………….political science.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: