The Tech That Could Help Save Fukushima: Antonov An-225 Mriya

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The Putzmeister 70Z-meter, with its 70-meter flexible boom that can reach over the top of the reactors at Fukushima and deliver hundreds of gallons of water per minute from a safe distance, could help plant engineers keep the dangerous reactors cool. But you have to get them to Japan first. And that's where things get tricky.

The only way to move the world's largest truck-mounted booms on the market is to use one of the world's largest and heaviest manufactured cargo airplanes. A story in last week's issue of New York magazine incorrectly suggested that two of the three Putzmeister 70Z-meters would fly to Japan aboard the Antonov An-225 Mriya ("Dream"), but at least one of the trucks was shipped aboard an Antonov An-124, according to Putzmeister's CEO Dave Adams, just a few days ago.

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The two planes -- the An-225 and the An-124 -- are very similar. First flown in 1982, the An-124 is the world's largest ever serially-manufactured cargo airplane and the world's second largest operating cargo aicraft. (The An-225 is the largest, but only one was ever built.) There are a few dozen An-124s in service, with most in commercial use in Russia, the Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates. As the first models of the plane were intended for military use, though, with a projected service life of less than 8,000 flight hours, it's unclear how safe the existing units are; some have flown now for more than 15,000 hours. Because of its payload -- an on-board overheard crane is capable of lifting up to 60,000 pounds of cargo -- the An-124 has flown some notable missions, shuttling locomotives from Canada to Ireland, bringing the granite Obelisk of Axum back to Ethiopia from Rome (in three separate trips), and carrying a whale from France to Japan.

Fifty feet longer than the An-124 and with a payload nearly 70 percent greater than its smaller sibling, the An-225 is not only the world's largest comercial cargo aircraft, but it puts the An-124 at a distant second. Designed by Antonov Design Bureau, a state-owned Ukrainian aircraft manufacturing and services company that has operated out of Kiev for more than sixy years, the An-225 was completed in 1988. There's only one in existence, though a second has sat in a hangar, partially completed, for decades. The An-225 was designed specifically to transport the Buran orbiter, a spaceflight vehicle that only completed one unmanned flight before the Soviet Buran program was cancelled in 1993. The orbiter was destroyed in 2002 when the hangar it was being stored in collapsed.

Even though the Buran program was cancelled, the An-225 has found steady work transporting things that were once thought to be unmovable. For its first flight in commercial service, the plane delivered nearly a quarter-million prepared meals for American military personnel in Oman; the meals weighed nearly 200 tons. The An-225 has also been used to ship locomotives, 150-ton generators, huge quantities of emergency relief supplies, a generator for a gas power plant in Armenia, wind turbine blades and more.

Given that the Armenian generator weighed nearly 420,000 pounds, transporting the Putzmeister 70Z-meter to Japan shouldn't be a difficult task; the Juggernaut tips the scales at 190,000 pounds. Still, the plane will need to make three refueling stops on a 48-hour flight from Atlanta to Japan. The same flight for a passenger plane would take only fifteen hours.

MORE TECH THAT COULD HELP SAVE JAPAN:

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Nicholas Jackson is a former associate editor at The Atlantic.

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