March 20th, 2012 | 9:52 am

Some Perspectives on My Fukushima Experience

By Tom Stevens, Senior Consultant, AREVA

Tom Stevens

I first went to Japan a few weeks after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident as part of AREVA’s representation on the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) Industry Support Team in Tokyo. The INPO team was advising Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and helping them assess and respond to the crisis. AREVA was very responsive to Japan’s needs during this crisis, and as part of that activity, I made four separate trips to Japan totaling 179 days in-country last year.

During one of my arrivals at the Tokyo airport, I got a first-hand sense of how profoundly Fukushima had affected the Japanese. As the customs official examined my passport, he asked how long I would be staying in Japan. Since I really did not know, I responded with “several weeks.” This did not go over well with the official, and he asked in an authoritative voice, “and just what will you be doing here in Japan?” I responded that I was here to help TEPCO resolve the Fukushima crisis. The official immediately handed me back my passport and sincerely thanked me for coming to Japan.

There was another gesture of thanks when we checked into the hotel in Tokyo, 260 kilometers from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility. In my hotel room was a colorful, personalized handwritten card with the message, “Welcome to the Daiichi Hotel Annex. Thank you for coming to Japan to save us from this crisis. [Signed,] All staff of Daiichi Hotel Annex.”

The INPO Team primarily worked in the TEPCO office building in downtown Tokyo, typically holding multiple daily meetings with TEPCO engineers on a variety of issues associated with managing the plants through the crisis period. Our endeavors also included meetings with the Japanese Regulator (NISA), the U.S. Regulator (NRC), as well as the Japanese Cabinet and other Japanese nuclear organizations. After some time working in Tokyo, we had the opportunity to meet directly with some of the site-based TEPCO engineers and visit Fukushima Daiichi.

After traveling through part of the countryside ravaged by the tsunami and evacuated after the nuclear crisis began, we arrived at the transfer center on the border of the secured area. We completely redressed in provided white plastic clothing made from flexible material similar to a FedEx envelope, and donned facemasks and gloves. We boarded another set of vans that only operate within the secured area, and began the trip to the facility. The impact of the tsunami’s destruction was everywhere, from damaged buildings to mounds of debris.

The quiet of the surrounding area contrasted sharply with the activity and progress at the Fukushima site. Teams were intent on addressing the multiple challenges at the site. One of the first actions after stabilizing the reactors with pumped-in water was deploying a water filtration system to process the tons of now-contaminated water pooling in the buildings. In response to this immediate need, AREVA quickly deployed a team to help TEPCO design, install and operate a unique ACTIFLO-RAD water filtration system at Fukushima. As we toured the large filtration facility, I was amazed that such a complex system could be designed in 10 days and, within two months, be constructed and treating thousands of square meters of water a day.

Personally seeing the Fukushima Daiichi facility, the dedicated people working there, and the significant progress being made gave me a strong appreciation for the impact of both the crisis and the cooperative outpouring of concern and assistance.

I know from my experience there, that TEPCO and the Japanese people are appreciative of our efforts. And I am proud that AREVA helped lead this response effort and make a positive improvement for nearby residents and the global community.