Business

Arney invention used in nuclear reactor battle

Salt Spring inventor Don Arney replays video footage of Japanese military helicopters using the Bambi Bucket to cool down the Fukushima Daichi nuclear reactors. By using shorter-than-normal lines, the helicopters weren’t able to get the buckets as close as optimal to the targets. - photo by susan lundy
Salt Spring inventor Don Arney replays video footage of Japanese military helicopters using the Bambi Bucket to cool down the Fukushima Daichi nuclear reactors. By using shorter-than-normal lines, the helicopters weren’t able to get the buckets as close as optimal to the targets.
— image credit: photo by susan lundy

Like millions around the world, Salt Spring’s Don Arney flicked on the television last week to watch the latest drama in disaster-struck Japan, where the focus had turned to the overheating Fukushima Daichi nuclear reactors.

But Arney’s reaction differed from most as he jumped up and shouted, “No! They’re doing it wrong!”

Arney, the inventor of the Bambi Bucket used in helicopter firefighting, watched as the Japanese military employed the buckets in a less-than-effective manner.

“They weren’t doing it right,” Arney says. “They were using 20- to 30-foot-long lines instead of the 200-foot lines used by commercial pilots over here.”

Using longer lines would have allowed the helicopters to be higher — further from the danger zone — and therefore able to hover, getting the buckets closer to the target and dropping more concentrated loads. Dumping water from shorter lines and at a forward speed caused some vaporization and less accurate hits.

After watching the footage, Arney and others at the Delta-based SEI Industries which makes the Bambi Bucket, estimated the buckets in Japan were dropping less-than-the-optimal 2,000 gallons of water per hour.

“With a long line and hover, they could have been dropping 40,000 gallons an hour,” Arney says.

The Japanese military used the huge orange fabric buckets to scoop up water from the Pacific Ocean and drop it on the reactors until power could be restored to the pumps and once again begin flushing water through the reactor cores.

Aerial cooling of the reactors was necessary until access to the site via ground could be established, and a steady stream of water employed.

“We had no idea how long aerial support would be needed,” said Arney, who had a trainer ready to go to Japan and teach the military pilots a quick course in “vertical reference work.”

SEI Industries had also found a number of longer lines and was prepared to donate them to  the Japanese military.

“It was frustrating not to be able to talk to someone directly,” Arney said, as SEI sought ways to contact the military through its Japanese distributors and the Canadian Department of National Defence.

Although ground access to the site was eventually made, Arney said, the situation highlighted the need for international training in optimal operation of the buckets, which are used in about 95 per cent of helicopter fighting worldwide.

Invented in 1982, the buckets have been sold to over 110 countries. The largest buckets hold up to 9,800  litres of water and collapse to fit in the back of helicopters when not in use. SEI has trainers available for pilot training and re-configuration of helicopters.

(Helicopters used in North America have a bubble window, which enable pilots to look directly over a target. Military pilots in Japan were depending on dropping directions from co-pilots looking through bomb doors at the back of the helicopters.)

As unexpected as it was for SEI to have the buckets used in “nuclear disaster mitigation,” Arney says, he has another company making equipment that could also be helpful.

Arney’s Nor E First Response provides systems for cleaning up and containing hazardous  material. It provides, for example, decontamination trailers and clothing for use following nuclear, biological and chemical incidents.

 

 

 

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