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Japan Fukushima Hero Chuck Casto Speaks to Students

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Regional Administrator Chuck Casto spoke to Belmont students on Monday to share lessons he learned on overcoming cultural differences during an international disaster.

Casto narrated his experience of dealing with the Japan Fukushima nuclear disaster following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 16,000 people, left much of the Asian country in ruins and wiped out six nuclear power plants.

“When you think about a disaster like that, people come together to support their friends. That is what we Americans do as a nation,” he said of Operation Tomodachi, the mission of U.S. Armed Forces to support Japan with disaster relief. “America shares its best and brightest minds with its friends.”

Casto said he was filling his truck with gas at an Atlanta-area Wal-Mart on March 11, 2011 when he received a phone call instructing him that he had three hours to catch a flight at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport to lead nuclear power accident recovery efforts in Japan.

While on the 14-hour flight, an attendant noticed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission logo on his shirt and moved him from coach to business class. There Casto planned to review protocol and reference materials and learn Japanese cultural nuisances; instead he spent the time answering questions of the concerned flight crew as they flew into a nuclear plume.

“You never know when you can be called on,” said Casto, who admitted that just three days earlier he sat at a conference contemplating his retirement after 40 years in nuclear power plants planning for  earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and other disasters. “I have not retired because I was so energized by this.”

What was meant to be an 11-day trip turn into an 11-month mission to prevent Dai-ichi nuclear plant from exploding. Casto witnessed a defiant Japanese scientist disobey the government and pour sea water over a hot nuclear reactor to halt its radioactive plume. The choice of morality over obedience saved the nuclear plant and lives, Casto said.

Casto also shared light-hearted stories, including how he joked with the Japanese prime minister about Casto needing to get home to feed his dog and winning a tournament of rock, paper, scissors at a country-western bar.

Casto successfully identified and secured vital equipment necessary to combat the nuclear accident, effectively coordinated with various government agencies and departments to get the resources and led U.S. government technical support during Operation Tomodachi.


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