Fukushima, one year later

On March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake struck the northeastern coast of Japan. The Earth moved on its axis. Tsunami waves five-stories high overwhelmed villages. More than 20,000 people were lost. Some 200,000 Americans were in Japan and some were victims.

The six-unit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was without water or power. Without their lifeblood, the reactors and spent fuel pools would melt down. There was fear and there were heroes.

Most of the emergency equipment, facilities and people were lost. The situation was desperate. The world had to help Japan rescue the living and recover the dead.

At the Fukushima plant, a skeleton crew of 65 workers remained. Radiation alarms blared in the darkened plant and explosions rocked the site. With extensive damage, there was little hope of restoring water and power.

Many of the men removed their radiation detection devices and continued to work. Plant Manager Masao Yoshida and his men became heroes.

At the nearby Fukushima Diani nuclear plant, 200 other heroes installed more than 5 miles of high voltage cable under terrible conditions and averted another nuclear disaster.

The disaster wiped away more than 2.5 percent of the Japanese economy’s gross domestic product. Imagine having the great San Francisco earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and Three Mile Island nuclear accidents all at once.

As the Japanese people struggled to recover, the ocean that brought so much destruction now delivered heroes.

The survivors witnessed another force arriving from the East — the American 7th Fleet, led by the aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan. In Operation Tomodachi, Americans worked tirelessly in rescue and recovery missions. Even as the damaged plant sprayed the fleet with radioactive fallout, the American troops continued their heroic work.

American nuclear experts arrived immediately to provide advice on controlling the reactors and spent fuel pools. Normally at arm’s length, dedicated public servants and nuclear industry experts from America came together to bring their best advice to the Japanese. U.S. Navy water barges were floated to the reactors.

A water pumping system was designed and built by the Americans, and then flown in from Australia by the U.S. Air Force. Japanese and American nuclear experts worked together to find solutions. Their heroic work continues today to bring the reactors to cold shutdown.

Today, Japan is recovering. Our Japanese friends are working to restore a normal way of life. Ichiro Fujisaki, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, recently called Japan a comeback kid, and come back it has.

Despite the enormous losses, heroes from Japan, America and other nations emerged. One year later, our thoughts and prayers continue for Japan and all the victims of their 3/11 tragedy, but let us also remember with pride our own American heroes.

Chuck Casto was Japan site leader for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, responding to the Fukushima disaster. He lives in Marietta.

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