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U.S. Chief Nuclear Officers Complete Historic Visit to Japan

Sept. 13, 2013—The chief nuclear officers representing all operating U.S. commercial nuclear energy facilities today concluded a week of safety-focused dialogue and tours of Japanese nuclear plants, including the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini plant sites.

The unprecedented exchange among nearly 30 U.S. CNOs and their Japanese counterparts allowed the American contingent to see first-hand the impact of the 2011 Fukushima accident, to share lessons learned—and to discuss actions taken in the aftermath of the event and ways to improve the nuclear safety culture in both countries.


The U.S. delegation to Japan at a Tokyo reception

“Engaging with our Japanese counterparts and visiting Fukushima has had a profound impact on us,” said Anthony Pietrangelo, the Nuclear Energy Institute’s senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, at a news conference concluding the visit. “We sought, and received, first-hand accounts from our Japanese counterparts of the experience in all of its challenge and uncertainty. Seeing the devastation in person provides a greater understanding of the significance of the event and its effect on people in the area.”

The U.S. CNOs met with shift managers and control room operators at both the Daiichi and Daini sites who were on duty at the time of the earthquake and tsunami and gained first-hand insights into conditions at the facilities.  

Jim Scarola of Duke Energy Corp., on loan to NEI as executive director of the U.S. industry’s Fukushima response, explained the industry’s voluntary implementation of additional backup measures, known as FLEX. FLEX, Scarola said, is a tailored, comprehensive strategy for coping with extreme events using portable on-site backup equipment to maintain cooling for reactors and used fuel storage pools and the integrity of reactor containment. FLEX addresses the major problem encountered at Fukushima Daiichi—the loss of power to maintain effective cooling.

“While the tsunami and resulting impact on the people of Japan have clearly been devastating, the lessons must become a catalyst for raising safety standards, behaviors and emergency response capability in all nations,” Scarola added.    

The visit to Japan was coordinated by the Atlanta-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations in cooperation with the Japan Nuclear Safety Institute. INPO was established after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident to help the U.S. nuclear energy industry set and achieve the highest standards of safety and excellence in operational performance. INPO’s formation is widely acknowledged as a reason that U.S. nuclear energy facilities achieved the improvements in safety and reliability that for the past two decades have enabled nuclear energy to maintain a 20 percent share of U.S. electricity production even as the nation’s electricity demand has grown by 150 percent, to 4 million megawatt-hours of electricity annually.

NEI’s John Keeley accompanied the U.S. CNOs to Japan. See Nuclear Energy Institute’s blog for a diary of his impressions. Other blog posts from the week include video clips of Randy Edington, CNO of Arizona Public Service, and Entergy Nuclear CNO Jeff Forbes.