Watching Fukushima Daiishi: My pal, the nuclear cowboy

After Japan’s disastrous trifecta of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear threat, everyone wants to be a hero, especially my closest buddy in all the  world. (For that distinction, I shall protect his identity and call him Buddy).

Buddy’s a certified veteran nuclear engineer of more than 30 years. He has worked at the very Fukushima Daishi nuclear plant that’s in the news.

The news has actually brought us closer. His jargon has become the language of the day. Meltdown.  Fuel rods. Core reactors. 

Now I’m talking his language.

Earlier this week on Monday, he was watching the Japanese workers trying desperately to cool the fuel rods of the plant, and he could predict everything that would eventually happen like he had a crystal ball.

“They just need to add water, lots of it,” Buddy said. “And then they have to worry about the hydrogen build up which could cause an explosion.”

If vented correctly, it wouldn’t be a problem, he said. And even if there was an explosion, he knew those radioactive vapors would have a half-life of minutes (The steam was M-16, he said). The more dangerous fallout would occur if the core was exposed and the containment walls were breached. That would be a problem, then the radiation would be primarily Cesium. Not good. But Buddy was confident it could be controlled if they could only get massive amounts of power to pump in water, cool the fuel rods and deal with the hot water.  If only.

 “I know how to help them,” he said. “That’s my job.”

My friend was talking to me by phone as he was driving to another nuclear job and, ironically enough, passing through Three Mile Island in Pennyslvania.

It’s been Buddy’s life’s work. So he wasn’t scared by all nuke talk on TV. He wasn’t concerned about the radiation. He was just taken by the litany of  images from the disaster. The homeless Japanese people amid the rubble. And the ongoing threat of nuclear reactors no one seemingly can control.

“This is a John Wayne movie,” Buddy said. “And I want to be John Wayne.”

He may not get his chance to get there in time to assist the 180 or so who have remained to stay on. But my friend is what I call a nuclear cowboy, like the others who have stayed on to try to control the Fukushima plant.

They feel a duty to finish the job. Death?  Buddy has worked all these years and has had limited exposure. “Besides,” he said, “I’m not going to have any more kids… don’t have anything to fear. And I can help them.”

He may not get the chance now, as it appears the situation is deteriorating rapidly.

But he is like all of us, whose hearts are with the Japanese. During times like these everyone wants to be a hero.