U.S. nuclear cleanup specialist goes from Hanford to Fukushima via The News Tribune


But McCormick, 55, wouldn’t have it any other way: After working at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state for 12 years, he’s helping to lead the cleanup at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which melted down in March 2011.

“It’s a personal commitment,” McCormick said in a recent interview at his office in Tokyo’s Shimbashi district. “When the accident happened, it was just a terrible thing. I had a personal connection with the people of Japan. And my heart just went out to them.”

McCormick, whose wife is half Japanese, spends most of his time at the Fukushima plant, “getting my fingernails dirty and actually handling equipment.”

With radiation levels still high, he wears anti-contamination clothing, covering all of his skin. He said he felt well-protected and had no fears for health or safety.


His wife, Shirley Olinger, is the daughter of a Japanese woman who met and married an American serviceman in the 1950s.

When President Harry Truman bombed Japan in 1945, marking the end of World War II, it killed tens of thousands of people in Nagasaki, the city where McCormick’s mother-in-law was born.

Decades later, McCormick became a top U.S. official in charge of cleaning up the waste at Hanford, the site that produced the plutonium that destroyed Nagasaki. He headed one of the Department of Energy’s two management offices at Hanford.

McCormick retired last June, ending a 32-year career with the federal government.

“It was a good job and good work at Hanford, but it was just time to move on and see what else was in store for me,” he said.

It didn’t take long for McCormick to get an answer: He landed in Tokyo the very next month.

McCormick said he knew his life marked a full circle of sorts, having worked at nuclear sites in both the U.S. and Japan.

And it’s something he thinks about often.

“It’s gratifying and it’s motivating – very much so,” he said.

McCormick made his first trip to Japan in 2008 when he and his wife, who also worked as a manager at Hanford, went to Nagasaki to visit relatives and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum.


As McCormick does his work, he’s avoiding the public debate over whether Japan should restart some of the 48 nuclear plants that were shut down after the Fukushima disaster.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration said it was safe to begin reopening the plants this year, as long as they met higher safety standards put in place as a result of the disaster.

But a recent poll found that most Japanese citizens want the plants to remain closed, fearing another catastrophe.

“We don’t even know the final disposal place of the Fukushima waste. We should discuss this after we decide where to dispose of the waste,” said Hatsuhiko Aoki, an artist from Gifu Prefecture.

Yoshitaka Mukohara, the president of a publishing company and the secretary-general of the Anti-Nuclear Kagoshima Network, said the Abe administration was acting irresponsibly.

“There are some places that are not decontaminated, but the government is sending people back,” Mukohara said. “What they are doing is acting like nothing ever happened.”

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