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Juggernautics

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When you need to spray a lot of water or concrete, the world’s largest pump (nickname: “the Juggernaut”) can come in handy. The hard part: getting it to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, where it’s expected to join the radiation-fighting efforts this week.

THE PUMP

The Putzmeister 70Z-meter is a truck-mounted concrete pump so named because its folding boom is 70 meters long (almost 230 feet) and shaped like a Z. (It can also turn into an A, if that’s your pleasure.) Made in Germany since 2008, 70Zs are usually used for pouring concrete into high or hard-to-reach places and can be operated by remote control. Only three exist.

The company also made the eleven pumps used to bury the Chernobyl reactor.

Putzmeister is German for “Plaster Master.”


THE INSPIRATION

When the head of Putzmeister’s Japanese division saw news reports about problems hosing down the Fukushima Daiichi reactor’s spent fuel, he redirected a 58-meter unit, then on a cargo ship in the Pacific Ocean, to the scene; it arrived on March 22. Things went well enough that the company offered the 70Zs too.


THE PROBLEM

The two 70Zs Japan needed were still an ocean away. Putzmeister bought back one from a Sacramento construction company and got the South Carolina outfit that was leasing the other to end its contract early. The Japanese say they don’t yet need the third 70Z, but it could be sent later.

$2-plus million:cost of a new 70Z.


MOVING THE DAMN THINGS: Part 1

The pumps are on wheels ­(each one has ten axles), but they weigh 190,000 pounds. Because of its weight, the South Carolina machine was illegal on Georgia roads; Putzmeister secured a special permit from the governor to drive it to the Atlanta airport.

“At four bucks a gallon, it’s painful to the wallet.” —Pat Barber, president of a company that helped with the transfer to Atlanta.

70Z’s max speed: 55 mph

Mileage: 2–3 mpg

MOVING THE DAMN THINGS: Part 2

Both pumps were scheduled to fly to Japan on Saturday aboard Ukraine-made Antonov AN-225 planes, the biggest planes in the world and the only ones capacious enough for the job. Each flight will cost $1.3 million; Tokyo Electric Power Company, the plant’s owner, is paying (and reimbursing what Putzmeister spent to secure the pumps).

A typical Atlanta-Japan flight takes fifteen hours. because of the pump’s weight, the plane transporting that 70z from Georgia will need to make three refueling stops before arriving in Tokyo 48 hours later.


THE NEW JOB SITE

The trucks can pump about 700 gallons of water a minute, nearly three times as much as most fire engines. They may also be used to pour concrete to entomb the reactors. There are no plans to bring the pumps back from Japan, says Putzmeister America president Dave Adams.

“We’re not sure what condition they would be in after being on this job site,” says Adams.

Have good intel? Send tips to intel@nymag.com.


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