Contractors have replaced a 190,000-pound concrete pump that was deployed at Savannah River Site and later airlifted to Japan for use at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
The 70-meter pump, made by Putzmeister of Germany, is the largest device of its kind in the world and was in use by Augusta-based Ashmore Concrete Contractors at the construction site of the National Nuclear Security Administration's mixed-oxide fuel plant in South Carolina.
"At the time all this happened, there were three of this model in the world," said Jerry Ashmore, the company's president. "There was mine, another one in California and a third one in California that could not be retrofitted in time to be sent to Japan."
Ashmore willingly gave up his pump, as did Associated Concrete Pumping of Sacramento, Calif., and both units were flown to Japan in April.
Work on the remaining pump in California has since been completed, Ashmore said. That unit was shipped to South Carolina and has replaced the pump sent to Japan.
Both of the huge Putzmeisters sent overseas have undergone extensive modifications and are now onsite in Fukushima, where efforts to cool melted fuel and clean up radioactive contamination are progressing slowly.
The pumps are normally used to pour concrete onto bridges and high-rise buildings but can also pump water. At the damaged reactor site, the pumps have been used to focus cooling water on critical areas, and also to pump contaminated water away from the area to treatment facilities.
The 70-meter units, now called "giraffes," are remote controlled, which makes them suitable for areas with high radioactivity.
The machines were modified by the plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co., to include remote-controlled cameras and lights that helped diagnose and correct problems. Their use has helped restore some of the damaged cooling systems.
"We are now using cooling systems for the spent fuel pools of the Unit 2, 3, and 4," TEPCO spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai said Tuesday. "In the near future, the cooling system for the Unit 1 will be also started."
Initially, the pumps were used to inject water into severely damaged areas, which are now in the process of being cleaned up. "Therefore, the Putzmeister concrete pump is standing by at the Fukushima Daiich for cooling system trouble," Nagai said.
Ashmore's new pump remains in use daily at the $4.86 billion mixed oxide facility under construction at SRS, which is designed to dispose of surplus plutonium from dismantled nuclear warheads by blending it with uranium to make commercial nuclear fuel.