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Yokota Airmen play essential role in cooling Fukushima power plant
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Airman 1st Class Jeremy Hamblin, 374th Maintenance Squadron metals technician, grinds a sheet of metal that will be used to make a flange here March 26. After completed, Australian engineers will pass them to Japanese relief workers who can use the newly created flanges to help cool down the nuclear reactors and help stabilize the nuclear power plant in Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Chad C. Strohmeyer)
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Yokota Airmen play vital role in cooling Fukushima power plant

Posted 3/27/2011   Updated 3/27/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski
374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs


3/27/2011 - YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- A team of Yokota Airmen labored nonstop March 25-27 to design and create essential components for water pumps to be used at a nuclear power plant in northern Japan.

The power plant, located roughly 130 miles north of Yokota Air Base in Fukushima Prefecture, suffered catastrophic damage to its cooling system in the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami March 11.

To help Japanese crews stabilize the reactors, the US government purchased several water pumps to help their cause, and the Royal Australian Air Force helped transport them to Yokota. The Japanese hoses, however, didn't fit the attachment points on the pumps.

Fortunately, the 374th Maintenance Squadron developed the solution.

Two teams of four Airmen on 12-hour shifts designed and created the necessary adapters, pressure valves and other pieces so Japanese crews could use the pumps to augment the plant's cooling system. The pumps will be used to transport fresh water into the plant instead of ocean water, which leaves corroding salt residue when it evaporates. The project is one more way Team Yokota has supported Operation Tomodachi, the overall relief mission to help the Japanese people in their recovery efforts.

Staff Sgt. Charles Coy, aircraft metals technology section chief, spearheaded the endeavor. Working a swing shift between day and night crews enabled him to coordinate efforts as everyone worked on a different part of the project.

"Normally people bring us a broken part, blueprint or an idea they've sketched," Sergeant Coy said. "For this, they showed us the pump and the hoses - that was all we needed. We designed every piece from scratch, and then just built what was needed."

One of the designers, Airman 1st Class Jeremy Hamblin was excited about the challenge of the project and the chance to aid the Japanese people in their time of need.

"We were all wishing we could be a bigger part of everything that was going on," the Cedar City, Utah, native said of Operation Tomodachi. "Now we know we've had a direct impact in helping cool the reactors. It's nice to know we were there for them when they needed us."

To create the components, the Airmen scavenged what scraps of steel they could from around base, used a special computer program to design each piece and then cut out each part with exacting care.

"Precision is key," Airman Hamblin said. "If you're off by a hair's width - that's two hundredths of an inch - you're toast and it means starting all over. So you have to get it right the first time. Especially with this project because we didn't have extra metal if anything got messed up."

Sergeant Coy, the only senior technician in the flight, said the project has yielded prime opportunities for his junior Airmen to excel.

"They've been nothing short of amazing," Sergeant Coy said. "We've not had to redo a single part anyone's made; it's all been perfect the first time through."

One member of the night shift team, Airman Daniel Pina, has been particularly effective.

"It all comes natural to him," Sergeant Coy said. "Airman Pina asks all the right questions and he's a quick learner, which is exactly what we needed for this job."

According to Sergeant Coy, Airman Pina did work usually reserved for technicians with four or five years on the job. Airman Pina, an Ogden, Utah, native, has been in the Air Force six months. The gravity of the situation certainly isn't lost on him.

"This is probably the defining moment of my career," Airman Pina said. "It's probably the defining moment of my life. I just really hope it works."

Despite the urgency and significance of their task, safety was always of utmost importance.

"If we ever rush and miss taking necessary safety steps, someone could get hurt and that would mean one person off the line -- we can't ever afford that, especially not right now," Sergeant Coy said.

For him, the hardest part of the job was telling people to stop doing theirs.

"I hated having to send people home because everyone wanted to keep at it until we were done," he said. "But I had to make sure they got their rest so they could come back the next day ready to work. I'd have to tell people, 'Just relax, you can't operate the machinery unless you've had proper rest. You did your part, now get some sleep and the next crew will take it from here.'"

After most of the components were finished Saturday, the Airmen delivered them to a team of engineers, who showed Japanese technicians how to assemble the complete system. Then they loaded the pumps onto a truck bound for Fukushima to begin setting it all up. 

The remaining pieces were delivered Sunday morning, with Japanese crews expected to place the pumps into service that day, all thanks to the generosity of the US and Australian government and the ingenuity of Yokota Airmen.



tabComments
3/31/2011 6:21:37 PM ET
Great articleshould have been picked up by AP others.President should be talking about these and others pitching in.
masimons, United States
 
3/29/2011 1:49:50 PM ET
OUTSTANDING So proud of these men and the entire USAF
sandi, minn usa
 
3/28/2011 11:26:13 PM ET
Cool story. Our Yokota brothers are making a difference
Andrew, Yokota
 
3/28/2011 3:01:21 PM ET
Way to go
Bethany, Florida
 
3/28/2011 7:50:58 AM ET
I am glad all of us got a hand in everything that came in. It really was a team effort and we came together when it was needed most. We made a very big impact in the world and it is forever to be remembered. I just want to thank everyone in my shop for everything that we have done for the Fukushima relief.Metals Tech. ChantMetals Tech Rawr Rawr Rawr.......eeeeeeehhh FEED IT
SrA Skyler Nefflen, Aircraft Metals Technology Yokota Air Base Japan
 
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