2011 ANNUAL REPORT

Japan Disaster Support

8.9
MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE

The following information provides a timeline of ORAU’s response in total as well as details of the specific emergency response, radiation emergency medicine, health communication and radiological survey expertise that ORAU contributed.

Slide 1

March 11

A magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit off the shore of Japan and triggered a 30-foot tsunami.

ORAU team at REAC/TS received their first request for information related to the Fukushima incident.

Photo credit: AP/Kyodo News

Slide 2

March 12

Japanese officials reported an explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. They detected eight times the normal radiation levels outside and 1,000 times normal inside the structure.

Photo credit: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

Slide 3

March 13

Japan’s nuclear safety agency reported the cooling system of a third nuclear reactor failed and approximately 170,000 people were evacuated from a 12-mile radius around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Eight members of ORAU’s national security and emergency management team were dispatched to Japan to support DOE senior energy officials and liaison officers at the U.S. Embassy in Japan and the Yokota Air Base.

A maritime transport ship located off the shore of Honshu, Japan, became exposed to airborne radioactive materials being released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Slide 4

March 14

ORAU’s national security and emergency management team supplied 18 personnel to support the DOE Nuclear Incident Team at DOE headquarters, providing 24/7 assistance.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kevin B. Gray/Released

Slide 5

March 15

For tracking radiation exposure, DOE employed the Radiological Assessment and Monitoring System network, a pre-existing asset ORAU first developed—in collaboration with the NNSA Office of Emergency Response—to support the operations of the Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center.

Photo credit: AP/Gregory Bull

Slide 6

March 16

The United Nations forecasted the possible movement of the radioactive plume leaking from Japan’s crisis-hit reactors and predicted it could reach the United States within a couple of days.

Regarding the Japan incident, REAC/TS experts participated in a conference call with Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute and other military groups for discussion of treatment for internal contamination of a number of isotopes.

The CDC, which activated their Joint Information Center within 24 hours of the crisis, realized they would need additional subject matter experts and asked ORAU health education specialists to help with the dissemination of radiation emergency information to the public.

Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Slide 7

March 21-24

ORAU’s health communication team partnered with the CDC to host “Bridging the Gaps: Public Health and Radiation Emergency Preparedness,” a national conference with forums for discussing the current state of radiation emergency preparedness, including gaps and barriers, at the local, state and federal levels.

Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Slide 8

April

Preliminary radiological investigations of the maritime transport ship that traveled through the radiation plume identified elevated radiation levels within the ship’s air-handling systems and the associated components.

Slide 9

May 7

In the eight weeks after the Japan earthquake and tsunami, ORAU’s REAC/TS team responded to more than 200 calls related to the medical effects of radiation.

Slide 10

May 8

ORAU national security personnel support of the DOE Nuclear Incident Team at DOE headquarters concluded, nearly two months after the start of the crisis.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Kyodo News

Slide 11

July 11-27

With only a few days to mobilize, ORAU’s environmental assessment team performed a comprehensive, three-week-long radiological verification survey of the maritime transport ships that had been located off the coast of Japan at the time of the disaster.

Slide 12

August 23-25

At the request of Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, REAC/TS conducted radiation emergency medicine training in Japan as part of the continuing U.S. response to the Japan nuclear crisis. There were approximately 30 participants.

Slide 13

August 26

Once REAC/TS’ training in Japan had concluded, REAC/TS experts were invited to give a presentation on the U.S. response to the Fukushima reactor crisis to an audience of Japanese media and foreign embassies.

Our response has been truly impressive, with over 404 contractors joining the federal workforce supporting events in Japan. I truly appreciate the individual and team effort that has been put forth.
— Deborah A. Wilber
Director of the NNSA Office of Emergency Response

On March 11, Japan experienced arguably one of the worst international disasters of modern times, when an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami pummeled the island and threatened a nuclear power plant meltdown. With devastation comparable to that of the Haiti earthquake, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear accidents, Japan would require tremendous support from countries around the globe. As the U.S. responded to the rapidly unfolding crisis, ORAU provided diverse and comprehensive capabilities to support our federal agency partners and the U.S. and Japanese governments.

Supporting U.S. response to the Japanese nuclear crisis

As news broke of the natural disaster and threat of nuclear crisis in Japan, the U.S. immediately offered support. Recognizing the value of collaborative resources, President Obama pledged support by providing Japan with access to the nation’s best nuclear and emergency response experts.

Among those tapped to assist in the response effort was ORAU’s national security and emergency management team. Through a contract to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy, ORAU personnel provided the National Nuclear Security Administration with technical and analytical nuclear incident support. This included radiation assessment, emergency response and logistics coordination, both here in the states and on the ground in Japan.

Within 48 hours after the earthquake, ORAU emergency management experts accompanied the NNSA Office of Emergency Response in deploying to Japan to support DOE senior energy officials and liaison officers at the Yokota Air Base and the U.S. Embassy in Japan. A total of eight ORAU team members provided support to both the DOE-NNSA Disaster Assistance Response Team and Consequence Management Response Team, which supported relief operations.

For tracking radiation exposure, DOE employed the Radiological Assessment and Monitoring System (RAMS) network, a pre-existing asset ORAU first developed—in collaboration with the NNSA Office of Emergency Response—to support the operations of DOE’s Federal Radiological Monitoring and Assessment Center. The U.S. government used RAMS as a paperless data management system for collecting and tracking all radiological data coming out of Japan during the height of the disaster as well as in the weeks that followed.

While much of this occurred across the Pacific Ocean in Japan, a separate 18-person team from ORAU supported the NNSA Nuclear Incident Team (NIT), which had convened at DOE Headquarters, located in Washington, D.C. Responsible for deploying assets at the request of coordinating agencies, the NIT served as the point of coordination for support activities, both in Japan and in the U.S. ORAU staff rotated shifts among team members to provide 24/7 assistance to the NIT.

Several months after the crisis, ORAU employees who supported the Nuclear Incident Team received DOE Secretarial Honor Awards, presented by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, for their work in the response effort.

Advising on medical aspects of radiation exposure in Japan

Because of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered catastrophic damage—ultimately releasing dangerously high amounts of radioactive material that led to the evacuation of more than 170,000 Japanese citizens within a 12-mile radius of the crippled plant. Responding agencies, including those from the U.S. and Japan, had to mobilize quickly to assess the situation and provide critical, life-saving information to Japanese citizens, as well as to U.S. citizens who were in Japan at the time of the crisis.

Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster
170,000
EVACUATED

Photo credit: AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

Of particular concern were questions about the medical impacts of radiation exposure, the effect on food and water safety and what actions individuals could take to protect themselves. To provide advice and consultation, ORAU physicians and health physicists at REAC/TS—or the Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site—were on call 24/7 during the days and weeks that followed.

As an emergency response asset managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy, REAC/TS comprises a cadre of radiation medicine experts who have traveled the globe to train physicians, nurses and first responders for emergencies involving radioactive materials. As the Japan nuclear crisis quickly unfolded, that preparedness positioned REAC/TS as a trusted source for government officials, first responders and media representatives.

REAC/TS, which maintains a repository of clinical information on drug therapies to treat radiation victims, answered many medical questions related to potassium iodide, or KI, which prevents radioactive materials from being absorbed in the thyroid gland. In addition to information on drug therapies, copies of a pre-existing pocket field guide, created by REAC/TS and titled The Medical Aspects of Radiation Incidents, were also provided to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. military personnel who were immediately responding the radiological emergency.

Although REAC/TS received its first request for information the same day the crisis occurred, there were more than 200 inquires—both domestic and international—that were managed in the days and weeks that followed the Japan nuclear crisis. In August 2011, REAC/TS personnel—under the direction of NNSA Associate Administrator for the Office of Emergency Operations Admiral Joseph Krol—conducted radiation emergency medicine training in Japan as part of the continuing U.S. response to the Fukushima reactor crisis. The training was requested by Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences and attendees included medical care providers, first responders and government officials.

Answering concerns about U.S. radiation emergency preparedness and public health response

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Radiation Studies Branch has long relied on ORAU to develop communication materials, preparedness training and public health tools in anticipation of public health emergencies. In the days and weeks following the March 11 Japan earthquake and tsunami, the years of collaborative work that had occurred between the CDC and ORAU received some real-world application as the U.S. prepared to respond to the rapidly unfolding crisis.

Upon learning of the unstable condition of several Japanese reactors, some U.S. citizens became concerned that radiation being released from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant would disperse across the Pacific Ocean. The CDC immediately activated their Joint Information Center (JIC), which was in opreated 24/7 during the event to respond to concerns related to food and water safety, protective actions and the extent of potential risks. ORAU staff served on-site at the JIC, providing more than 300 hours of radiation subject matter expertise. ORAU staff also assisted with the dissemination of radiation emergency information to the public through press conferences, talking points, website content, social media posts, telephone hotlines, health alert notices and other activities.

While continuing to provide support for the CDC’s JIC activities, ORAU also played a lead role in developing and executing the CDC’s first-ever “Bridging the Gaps: Public Health and Radiation Emergency Preparedness” conference from March 21-24, 2011, in Atlanta. As a forum for discussing the current state of radiation emergency preparedness in the U.S.—including gaps and barriers at the local, state and federal levels—the national conference featured Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, and garnered much attention in light of the Japan crisis. In addition to other speakers, ORAU experts presented several conference sessions on strategies for public health response to radiation emergencies, as well as medical management of radiation patients and safety considerations for first responders. Conference attendees included 430 federal, state and local government public health officials, workers and partners.

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, spoke at the CDC’s Bridging the Gaps: Public Health and Radiation Emergency Preparedness conference

Photo credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Given the international concerns surrounding the Japanese nuclear situation, White House national security senior officials addressed the conference audience via Webcast about the U.S. planning and response efforts to assist Japan and monitor events. During the address, two national security officials from the White House personally thanked CDC and ORAU staff for the “herculean efforts” it took “to keep the conference organized and running as smoothly as possible given the circumstances,” adding “we couldn’t have done it without you.” ORAU chaired a national working group to plan the conference, coordinated all programming, provided multiple lectures, conducted a walk-through training demonstration of a mock community reception center, and provided a live, last-minute Webinar of the proceedings for the media.

Maritime transport ship

Characterizing maritime assets off the coast of Japan for potential radiation contamination

ORAU’s environmental assessment team has enjoyed great success in providing independent verification surveys for contaminated buildings, property and even parcels of land. During the summer of 2011, however, a team of eight survey specialists had the unique challenge of applying their expertise to a maritime transport ship.

The vessel was located off the shore of Honshu, Japan, during the days immediately following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Prevailing winds pushed radiation released from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant out to the Pacific Ocean and exposed the ship to airborne radioactive materials. Of particular importance to the characterization were the ship’s air-handling systems and surface areas.

With only a few days to mobilize, ORAU performed a comprehensive, three-week-long, radiological verification survey of the ship’s systems and structures. The team’s priorities were to first survey any high-traffic areas such as the galley, mess room and sleeping quarters. Next, the team focused on the ship’s air filter system, which uses a series of fans and filters to clean contaminated air outside the ship before feeding it to airtight, inner rooms. Lastly, ORAU’s survey team assessed all nonfiltered cargo areas for any possible contamination.

“Working on the ship presented some unique challenges that made it critical for our team to be able to innovate on the run,” said ORAU Survey Operations Director Tim Vitkus. “Since much of our focus was on the ship’s air-handling systems, we had to be creative and find ways to assess the internal contamination levels without cutting holes in the ventilation systems. We gathered data from pipe monitors that were pulled through ventilation interiors and used that information to develop a correlation with data that were collected from surveying the ventilation exteriors. The team could then quickly produce robust and reliable results of internal contamination levels from the exterior survey technique.”

Ultimately, the objective of the characterization survey was to determine if there was any radiological contamination distinguishable from what is known as “background radiation,” or the level of everyday radiation that is present in the natural environment. A rapid assessment method was developed to evaluate data against background radiation to determine if an area or system of the ship was potentially contaminated.

“Most locations of elevated radiation that were investigated were found to be the result of naturally occurring radioactive materials that are present in consumer products or terrestrial soils,” said Vitkus. “Contamination was found within the filters; however, our final conclusion of the ship’s radiological status was that the air filtration system did its job and trapped the vast majority of contamination.”