The Cleanup Challenge at Fukushima Daiichi and U.S.-Japan Collaboration

The aftereffects of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated coastal regions of northern Japan — and precipitated the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant — were felt throughout the world, especially in those nations using nuclear power to generate clean energy. Countries that rely on nuclear power, countries that seek nuclear power — they are all connected when a problem occurs at a nuclear plant. This was abundantly clear in the case of Fukushima Daiichi, as international organizations and nuclear regulatory agencies worldwide responded to the crisis. In particular, it prompted close U.S.-Japan cooperation and collaboration that is increasingly evident today.

Both government and industry in Japan and the United States have been assessing the cleanup options, determining the best strategies and technologies for addressing radiation contamination inside and outside the fence at Fukushima Daiichi. An important element of this collaboration has involved sharing the experience and lessons learned during the ongoing cleanup of the nuclear weapons complex in the United States, which has been underway since the 1980s. As a result of this unique experience, the U.S. national laboratories and a number of U.S. companies have special expertise applicable to the cleanup effort in Japan.

Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) — a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory that specializes in the treatment, cleanup and environmental remediation of nuclear waste — was directly engaged with the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Energy Response Team from the days following the event to provide information and support to Japan. The exchange continued with the first Japan/U.S. Department of Energy Workshop on Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Cleanup in Japan in October 2011. Policy and technology issues were presented by SRNL, CH2M Hill and others at the U.S.-Japan Roundtable Washington Conference in December 2011. A second Department of Energy technical workshop was held at the Hanford Site in February 2012.

Following these exchanges, a nine-member TEPCO delegation visited the Savannah River National Laboratory from February 29 to March 2. Concurrently, SRNL, in partnership with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), whose research also supports the DOE’s cleanup of nuclear waste, continued its discussions with TEPCO. TEPCO, SRNL and PNNL scientists and engineers exchanged information and expertise related to “radiation detection, fate and transport of radionuclides, treatment and reuse of contaminated water, inspection and characterization of spent fuels, stabilization and decontamination of reactor sites, as well as characterization, remediation and control options for contaminated soils, biota and water in surrounding regions,” according the Department of Energy. 

Dr. Terry Michalske, Director of SRNL

In a DOE news release, (PDF file)
Dr. Terry Michalske, Director of SRNL, described the exchange as a two-way street: 

“Japan faces a long-term cleanup challenge in the years ahead, including many specific issues that are familiar to SRS. We have a successful history of developing and deploying technology to support complex long-term cleanup and remediation; an important mission of a National Laboratory is to find ways to make that expertise available within the global nuclear community. We also expect that going forward, we have much to learn from TEPCO that will be important to our own nuclear knowledge base.”

 Dr. Terry Michalske has been the Director of Savannah River National Lab since September 2010, including: 

  • Former Director of Energy and Security Systems at Sandia National Laboratory
  • Chairman of the 2009 “Formulation of a Bipartisan Energy and Climate Policy” workshop at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Awards: Orton Lecture Award, R&D 100 Award, Woldemar A. Weyl International Glass Science Award, Ross Coffin Purdy Award, DOE/Basic Energy Science Materials Science Award for Outstanding Technological Accomplishment 

To identify and synthesize the many lessons learned, SRNL has begun a process of knowledge consolidation which will unfold in stages to become a digital technical guide — a blueprint for crafting a remediation strategy, built on the American experience but tailored for the Fukushima cleanup. It will be produced in both English and Japanese.

SRNL provides rigorous scientific and technological basis for the planning, execution and assessment of cleanup projects, which provides a transparency that is the foundation of broad stakeholder buy-in and innovative solutions. SRNL’s technical experience and expertise is the direct result of laboratory involvement in all phases of research and development.

For more about SRNL and its cleanup capabilities, see

Dr. Jeff Griffin of SRNL with the TEPCO delegation

Look for Forum on Energy to post an interview of Dr. Jeff Griffin, Associate Laboratory Director for Environmental Stewardship (SRNL) about cleanup and remediation methodologies plus a SRNL infographic on cleanup and remediation.

RELATED: Forum on Energy Q&A with Matt Bennett and Robert Walther from Third Way,  a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that emphasizes “modern ideas aimed at the center.”