Monday, September 09, 2013

CNO Summit Diary: Dateline, Japan: Following history in the advance of safe nuclear operations

Often, I travel most modestly on behalf of the U.S. nuclear industry -- like say up and back to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for public meetings, some 7 miles from NEI's offices in Northwest Washington. But about a month ago, as word began circulating in the office about a sizable contingent (almost all) of our nation's chief nuclear officers traveling to Japan to meet with their Japanese CNO counterparts, NEI communications leadership saw a clear role to try and capture the historic visit in words and images. And tweets, of course.

My bosses picked me to tag along with the CNOs (almost 30 of them), as a bit of an embedded reporter. I've a daunting task in that regard. 

To be sure, this is a historic visit; nothing of its kind has been undertaken before in the history of commercial nuclear operations in the U.S. For the first time, the chief nuclear officers from the U.S. and Japan will meet together to discuss lessons learned from a severe accident: specifically, actions at Japanese plants during the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as well as steps companies in both countries are taking to enhance safety at nearly 150 reactors total.

And of course, we've a remarkable backdrop for this trip: news reports the past few weeks have been voluminous -- and, in must be noted, hyperbolic -- related to accounts of TEPCO's management of contaminated water at the Fukushima site. What is actually true is that one water tank on the site developed a leak, it was subsequently stopped, and the remaining water in the leaking tank was transferred. Additionally, the contaminated areas around the affected tanks have been treated, and radiation and tank water levels are being continuously monitored. There has been no threat to public safety. I'm confident the American traveling contingent will return home in a week's time with a great deal more information about conditions at Fukushima Daiichi and Daini.        

The idea for this spectacular summit really goes to Randy Edington, the chief nuclear officer of Arizona Public Service's Palo Verde nuclear plant. Randy visited Fukushima back in January, and he was so moved by the implications of the accident that he made it his mission to persuade his CNO colleagues to come over to Japan together, to experience what he experienced. It's a powerful statement I think of the U.S. nuclear industry's commitment to safety and continuous learning that we have just about every American CNO on this trip. 

Tokyo at night.
Credit for the enormous logistics necessary to pull off such a visit goes to the Atlanta-based Institute of Nuclear Power Operations. INPO shared Randy's view of the imperative of seeing, firsthand, the consequences of the Fukushima accident, discussing the U.S. response to the event, and interacting with the Japanese CNOs to convey, quite personally, our ongoing commitment to helping. INPO has dispatched an impressive team of talented videographers to chronicle the trip as a legacy and teaching moment. I'll be working closely with them.      

I feel most fortunate to have been selected to travel to Japan with our CNOs, and to aggregate as much content on the ground here as possible, and share it with you. We have plans to publish still and video images, on Facebook and the blog here, and on Twitter (@NEI_media and @N_E_I) I'll share my experience with the hashtag #CNOsummit. But the communications product I'm most excited about is a series of digital diaries I've asked a handful of my companion CNOs to keep for me. A fair number of them are traveling with iPads, and I thought it could be terrifically illuminating to have them construct something akin to digital postcards of their experience, and share them with you. Look for those in the days ahead.

A part of me is intimidated by a communications challenge obviously unlike anything I've ever attempted before, one which seems massive in scope and technical care and delicacy. But I'm keeping the best possible company, working alongside men and women of marvelous commitment and ability. I'm looking forward to bringing you their story.      


jimwg said...

I hope you folks contact and give moral air support to the beleagued few Japanese pro-nuclear blogs over there! They'd be a nice on-the-spot nuke news resource for us and nuclear orgs here as well!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Anonymous said...

Thanks for making the trip. One thing I think we should try to plant the seeds of whenever we can is to suggest that what happened to Daiichi is not so much an "accident" as a facility damaged by a natural event. The plant functioned as designed. It shut down as planned and was in a safe, stable condition until natural forces beyond those reasonably planned for caused further damage. It is as wrong to call this an "accident" as it is to say the cities and towns flooded by the tsunami were "accidents". That may seem like arguing semantics, but calling things "accidents" when they really aren't leads to incorrect perceptions of causation and risk.