Two of the world's largest concrete pumps - normally used for concrete in construction projects - departed from the United States on Saturday morning to Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant to help contain the damaged nuclear reactors there.

The idea to use concrete boom pumps to cool the reactors came from Hiroshi Suzuki, the head of the Putzmeister subsidiary in Japan, who contacted Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and Japan's prime minister.

Suzuki provided vital information about the machine's capabilities and how they could help cool the reactors. Two days later, Japan's prime minister gave an emergency order to bring ashore a Putzmeister boom pump that had been en route to a customer.

On March 22, after receiving training from Suzuki, 12 workers pumped 150 tons of seawater through the pump's 190-foot long boom into the reactor's spent-fuel pool. Upon seeing successful results, the effort to bring in additional pumps began.

Sturtevant-based Putzmeister America Inc.'s two 70Z-Meter concrete boom pumps weighs around 190,000 pounds and has a boom reach over 227 feet.

Normally used to pour concrete for bridges and high-rise construction projects, the machines offer pin point accuracy and unmatched reach to directly target hotspots within the reactors. The pump is operated via remote control, so the operator is able to remain in a safe location about 1.2 miles away.

Putzmeister has previous experience working on nuclear power plants in crisis and other disasters. After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Putzmeister sent 11 boom pumps to help place the concrete to entomb the reactor block. Also, for more than 25 years, Putzmeister concrete pumps have been used in fire-fighting operations.

Putzmeister America is a division of one of the world's most respected heavy equipment manufacturers, Putzmeister Concrete Pumps GmbH (PCP). Together, the two affiliates sent four additional boom pumps to join one already working on the effort.