Doctoral student Logan McNeil recently took part in one of the first academic tours of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan, which was crippled by a devastating tsunami in 2011.
Along with MABE Professor Bill Hamel and nuclear engineering student Micah Folsom, McNeil was part of a select group invited to Japan to attend a conference
about technology used to decommission the reactors, including robots, sensors, and other electronics.
The Fukushima disaster, which left three of the reactors in meltdown status, is considered the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown in what
was then the Soviet Union.
“We heard presentations about site recovery and the remaining technical challenges Japan faces in returning the environment—as close as possible—to its original condition,” said Hamel, who spoke at the conference. “Seeing the effort that the Japanese people have put forth is a tribute to their commitment to restore the area, but it will be a number of decades before that is complete.”
The students talked about the “surreal” nature of driving around the destroyed complex and looking up to see the high-water mark left by the tsunami. “The day we visited the plant itself was really an eerie experience,” said McNeil. “It was like seeing a city frozen in time, where houses had been abandoned, streets had been fenced off, and vehicles and equipment were left untouched for almost eight years.”
As a mechanical engineering major, McNeil said that, while the radioactive nature of the plant was certainly a concern, he was more taken about by the sheer amount of destruction that the earthquake and tsunami had left.
In addition to seeing the reactor buildings up close, the students saw the impressive infrastructure built for the cleanup effort, including massive arrays of tanks holding contaminated water.
Students also spent time learning about robotics at Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s (JAEA) Naraha Center for Remote Control Technology Development and at
the University of Tokyo, working with students using software to perform 3D scene reconstruction and radiation transport simulations.
JAEA provided financial support for the trip, which included two students each from the University of California at Berkeley, McMaster University in Canada, and the University of Tokyo.