The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on the 11th of March 2011, gripped the world. At first, we witnessed the novelty of camera phone videos on YouTube showing large cracks in the ground opening and closing at a Tokyo park. The curiosity vanished immediately as the reality of the horror ahead set in. No one ever anticipated the fury of an earthquake coupled with the rage of a tsunami could not only create so much damage to a country, but also unleash a sequence of events that led to an unprecedented nuclear disaster that has yet to be completely mitigated.
In the days and weeks following, not only did the world want to know how this happened, but the pressure was also on to ensure that nothing like these cascading failures could ever happen again — in Vermont or in Germany or anywhere else in the world. In fact, for German chancellor Angela Merkel, it was what she termed Japan’s “helplessness” in the midst of a nuclear disaster, despite being a technologically advanced, industrialized nation, which influenced her position to begin a shift away from nuclear power and to serve as an entry point for renewable energy.
The fact remains that, according to the World Nuclear Association, there are currently 432 operable civil nuclear/power nuclear reactors around the world, with a further 70 under construction. About 13.5% of the world’s electricity comes from nuclear power.
Following the tragic events in Japan in March of 2011, the renewed scrutiny of nuclear power led to a number of responsive, proactive and constructive strategies adopted by nuclear operators. Every preparation for every likely and unlikely scenario needed to be anticipated. What was the best place to start? Well, what were the lessons learned at Fukushima?
One key discovery was that access to all essential documents pertaining to the operation of the power plant was not easily accessible by remote personnel. Now that many decisions were being made about the facility at some considerable distance, the need for access to all operational content –manuals, protocols, forms, records, and more– needed to be available at any number of locations. As such, the solution was not to be found in transporting documents to a second, separate site. Users needed access anytime and anywhere. This new paradigm will reverberate throughout the nuclear industry as they re-assess their emergency and disaster recovery plans.
Anytime/anywhere access was achieved by implementing a document imaging and management solution that scanned all essential content and materials into an easily searchable online resource that displayed documents in PDF. No matter where an operator or inspector or engineer was, he or she could get to critical documents whether at an office in Tokyo or on an iPad in an emergency vehicle travelling on a highway.
Document imaging specialists, Image Data, were partners in making this happen. Tom Bourke, CEO and co-founder of Image Data discussed the sensitive project, “The Fukushima disaster added a unique dimension to this project. The world over, our hearts were broken for this community and their country. We were given the opportunity to work with the nuclear authority to offer a strategic part of a solution that helps them better manage the damaged facility and to provide guidance on how to avoid similar cascades of failures at other facilities.”
Bourke adds, “This project was like no other for Image Data. We knew that our work was making a difference for public safety and, we were proud to be helping Japan rebuild after the tragedy in a critical way.”
Essential nuclear power plant documents and content were scanned and indexed into a highly secure, online resource where users could research material easily regardless of location. This enables the possibility of collaboration with international partners, with management at other facilities, and offers transparency with the government. It also signified a milestone in terms of having records organized in a cohesive, one-stop-shop resource.
More and more nuclear authorities and operators are adopting the move to migrate all content to a document imaging solution like Image Data. This approach consolidates resources and increases access to all stakeholders. Another factor to consider is that, because of the tantamount importance of procedure and policy in facilities like nuclear power plants, sometimes rigidity about “how things are done” can emerge — especially with reliable but older infrastructure and technology.
The unfortunate disaster in Japan has not done away with the need for conservatively implemented policies and protocols. Instead, it’s forced operators to ensure they are adopting state-of-the-art resources and best practices, like document management, to ensure knowledge that informs decision making, especially during critical events, is available whenever and wherever it’s needed.