Lessons from Fukushima: Interview with Chuck Casto

In the final video interview of our “Lessons from Fukushima” series, former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulator Dr. Charles “Chuck” Casto offers his insights and opinions about the events and aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Dr. Casto was one of the first Americans on the ground in Fukushima, as he was dispatched to serve as the lead federal executive in Japan mere days after the tsunami.

Chuck Casto with titleDr. Casto underscores, “I understood the worldwide fear that was happening,” given the unprecedented scale of the disaster and the difficulties in communication in the immediate aftermath. One of his first actions was to dispatch engineers to talk with Japanese utility and regulator engineers, but it quickly became apparent that a limitation was that no single engineer had a global picture of the accident.

On the 10th day after the accident, bilateral meetings between the U.S. and Japanese governments began; previously, communication was relatively sporadic. The direct bilateral discussions were vital because the U.S. was now able to convey its concerns and Japan was able to express its needs, with the U.S. ultimately providing millions of dollars’ worth of aid in resources.

Dr. Casto emphasizes that before Fukushima, communication was clearly lacking, mainly conducted between the NRC and any relevant regulator. Since the accident, significant progress has been made in connecting the governments and industries of the two countries directly.

In outlining the events at Fukushima Daiini, Dr. Casto also stresses the crisis leadership skills displayed by the Japanese workers, highlighting the human element of the disaster. He spotlights the fortitude of these individuals, who succeeded in restoring power to the reactor amidst great uncertainty of the condition and safety of their families and homes.

Ultimately, Dr. Casto believes there are several lasting legacies of Fukushima:

  1. The nuclear industry must believe that accidents of this scale can happen, so that it may adequately prepare for them.
  2. Ultimately, Tepco’s coordination with the global industry set a model for international collaboration and support.
  3. The decommissioning work at Fukushima Daiichi has advanced decommissioning technology greatly, which will carry the industry forward with new robotics, instrumentation, and strategies.

Internally and externally, Japanese industry players such as Tepco have significantly bettered themselves by implementing a stronger safety culture and welcoming outside players to come in and challenge them, according to Dr. Casto. He finalizes the interview by expressing strong optimism for the future of Fukushima itself and the nuclear industry as a whole.