B.C. innovation helping to douse Japanese nuclear reactors

 Two Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force helicopters hover over off Natori, Miyagi Prefecture as they carry seawaters to drop onto the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant Thursday, March 17, 2011. (The Yomiuri Shimbun / Kenji Shimizu)

Two Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force helicopters hover over off Natori, Miyagi Prefecture as they carry seawaters to drop onto the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant Thursday, March 17, 2011. (The Yomiuri Shimbun / Kenji Shimizu)

It was originally meant to fight forest fires, but an innovation from a B.C.-based company is being used by the Japanese military to douse water on the country's dangerously overheated nuclear reactors.

Helicopters are using huge fabric buckets to pick up thousands of litres of water at a time on runs from the Pacific Ocean to the Fukushima Daichi reactors -- buckets designed by Delta-based SEI Industries.

"I've seen applications in all parts of the world, on different types of fire, but I never expected we would be seeing this used in a nuclear reactor disaster mitigation," said SEI Industry's Shawn Bethel.

The buckets, known as "Bambi Buckets," were developed by company founder Don Arney in 1982. They have since been sold to over 100 countries, and have gone through many redesigns.

The large, collapsible orange buckets are suspended from the helicopters, and either scoop or suck water up from rivers or oceans. When the helicopter is suspended over the target, it can dump the water at once.

The Bambi Bucket has been a crucial tool in fighting forest fires in B.C.

The Japanese have purchased several dozen buckets since the mid-1990s. They are being used to drop some 7500 litres of water at a time on the reactors until the power can be restored to pumps that usually flush sea water through the reactor cores.

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