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Massive pumps departing U.S. for Japan nuclear plant

By Vivian Kuo, CNN
  • The pumps are being loaded Friday onto Russian cargo jets
  • They will leave from Atlanta and Los Angeles
  • They'll be used at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

Atlanta (CNN) -- Two of the world's largest concrete pumps will depart the United States later this week as part of the effort to resolve the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, officials said.

Each pump weighs 190,000 pounds and has a boom reach of over 227 feet, and can pump water and concrete at massive rates. They will be loaded aboard enormous Russian cargo jets Friday.

The pumps' manufacturer, Putzmeister, said in a release the devices are normally used to pour concrete for bridges and high-rise construction projects, but can offer pinpoint accuracy "to directly target hotspots within the reactors" and help with cooling.

There are only three such pumps in the world, said Putzmeister spokeswoman Mary Roberts.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued an emergency order to obtain a similar, smaller pump in March, approximately one week after the March 11 magnitude-9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck Japan and damaged the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

After the pump arrived and was used to successfully pump 150 tons of seawater into the plant's nuclear reactor spent-fuel pool, initiatives to bring the two larger devices to Japan began.

Just last week, the U.S. Department of Energy was using one of the pumps at a mixed oxide fuel plant construction site on the Savannah River in southeastern Georgia. Georgia Department of Transportation Jill Goldberg said the agency issued a special permit for the gigantic pump to get it to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It arrived there Monday.

The pumps are fully assembled and will remain so during the long journey to Japan, Roberts said. "Since they're already assembled, that will mean no delay on the Japanese end on getting it to the plant," she said.

Once each machine is loaded on board Russian Antonov An-124 planes, one pump will depart from Atlanta, while the other will depart from Los Angeles International Airport on Saturday morning.

Two Putzmeister technicians are traveling with each pump to train the Japanese who will eventually be operating them, Roberts said.

Previously, one of the pumps had been used to encase the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl with concrete after the 1986 nuclear accident in the former Soviet Union.