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https://nda.blog.gov.uk/2021/03/16/east-meets-west/

East meets west

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The great East Japan earthquake was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan.

It caused a tsunami that resulted in more than 18,000 lives lost and the subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, 150 miles north of Tokyo, Japan.

At the time, I was a student at the University of Tokyo, and was on a skiing trip a few hours west of Tokyo when the earthquake struck. So I only learned about it on the news. When I returned to Tokyo was struck at how dark the city was due to the power cuts.

I took up a role in TEPCO in 2015, my degree is in the nuclear field, so I wanted to get involved in decommissioning to support efforts being made at Fukushima Daiichi.

After 3 years in engineering roles at both the head office and on the Daiichi site, I was offered the opportunity to spend 3 years at Sellafield Ltd, working with the company's external affairs team.

My secondment

The plan was to divide my 3 year secondment into several placements across the business to give me a breadth of different experiences.

Little did I know that over one year of my time here would be spent locked down in Whitehaven, in West Cumbria.

Prior to moving to the UK, I was not very familiar with what Sellafield Ltd was doing, I vaguely thought the work was something advanced. I came to realise how much of paperwork and strict rules there are in order to secure safety and security. This is similar to TEPCO.

My placements so far have covered external affairs, remediation technical, the innovation centre and commissioning work in the Pile Fuel Cladding Silo retrievals programme. There are obviously similarities working on both sites but I’m most impressed by the work of the Sellafield Innovation Centre.

The project teams are made up of younger engineers including the graduates and secondees from other companies and we could plan and manage the work totally by ourselves. In TEPCO, we normally work under the management of our team leaders or group managers, so it was really exciting to join the project.

Diversity

I also noticed a more diverse workplace at Sellafield. In TEPCO, there are only a few women working in the nuclear department but there are lots of female engineers at Sellafield Ltd.

Aside from the work differences Cumbria is world's away from the metropolis of Tokyo. Prior to lockdown I made the most of exploring the UK and enjoyed hiking and taking in the scenery.

On reflection, lockdown in the UK is very similar to lockdown in Japan so in the last year there have been plenty of Zoom quizzes and gatherings. I end up doing these in the morning here due to the time difference.

With just 9 months left, hopefully some of this will be less restricted. Working in another country, for another company and another culture itself is a really important experience.

In TEPCO, few people get the opportunity to work with overseas people and companies. I would like to promote the relationship with various countries in order to achieve the safer, sooner and more cost-effective decommissioning of Fukushima-Daiichi after coming back to TEPCO.

The final piece of learning I will take back to Japan is that of cooking British food – my favourites include fish and chips, sausage rolls and steak pie.

So, lockdown learning continues . . .

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