Exchange trip for nuclear industry heads

16 September 2013

American chief nuclear officers have completed a week-long technical visit to Japan, learning from their counterparts' experiences of the Fukushima accident and recovery.

The trip to Japan was coordinated by the US Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) and its counterpart the Japan Nuclear Safety Institute (JANSI). Both bodies provide a forum for operators of nuclear power plants to share experience and learn from each other.

Some 24 chief nuclear officers (CNOs) from US power companies took part. With responsibility for nuclear safety, these board-level experts in nuclear operation have a leading role in ensuring the proper technical and cultural conditions are in place for safe operation. In total the group spent over ten hours touring the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the site of the accident two years ago. They also visited Fukushima Daini, which experienced an emergency but was able to avoid an accident, while a sub-group was able to visit the Kashiwazaki Kariwa power plant and see repairs after a 2007 earthquake as well as post-Fukushima improvements to tsunami defence and emergency response.

Japanese and US CNOs, September 2013 (NEI) 460x200
These chief nuclear officers hold responsibility for 150 operable nuclear reactors
(Image: NEI)

The group heard from Japanese workers such as Takeyugi Inagaki, who was working in the control room of Fukushima Daiichi 1 and later in the plant's emergency response centre during the first 100 hours of the crisis. He and his colleagues remained at the plant site for long periods, unaware of the status of their families or homes and this caused the US delegation to consider the establishment of a protocol to communicate this important family information to US workers in a similar situation. Existing protocols, for example during hurricanes, are not immediately transferable due to the ability to forecast and plan for the event. The families of some Fukushima workers have also suffered harassment and bullying from embittered former neighbours.

On their first day in Japan the CNOs visited Tomioka on the coast about nine kilometres south of Fukushima Daiichi. The evacuated town now experiences annual radiation dose rates of 8-26 milliSieverts per year, compared to previous background levels of about 2 milliSieverts per year. The elevated doses are not high enough to be connected to any effect on people's health, but government rules allow people only to return during daylight hours to maintain their property and not to return on a permanent basis until after a clean-up operation that could take another four years.

John Keeley of trade group the Nuclear Energy Institute was travelling with the CNOs and blogging the groups experiences. He called the town a "sobering wreck of abandonment" and noted that the executives "wanted to see with their own eyes the ultimate consequences of a day gone very wrong at the plant." The NEI's own CNO, Tony Petrangelo, said, "Seeing the devastation in person provides a greater understanding of the significance of the event and its effects on people in the area."

The visit was the idea of Randy Edington, the CNO of Arizona Public Service's Pale Verde nuclear power plant. He said: "We came here to learn, to put eyes on the problem, to learn from each other and increase unity in the US but also to learn and share with our counterparts, the CNOs of Japan."

"The actions that we perform every single day at our plant can have US-wide or even worldwide consequences. I can't say enough about the importance of what we do, how important electricity is to all of our economies, to all our people. As we continue to learn and move forward in this industry, I'd like to re-emphasise our theme, which is: knowledge is fundamental; share it."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News