Eight of the “Fukushima 50” — the dozens of workers who stayed at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant at the height of the nuclear crisis in March last year — spoke out for the first time in a public event Sunday, meeting Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda during his visit to the still-troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Six of the eight men declined to be identified by the media, as they are still working at Fukushima No. 1, taking part in the effort to decommission the damaged reactors and related facilities.
At the start of their meeting with the prime minister they apologized to the public. “From the bottom of our heart, we’d like to apologize for causing (serious) anxiety and trouble” to people across the country, said Atsufumi Yoshizawa, who headed the operation team for reactor units 5 and 6 when the crisis broke out.
Thousands of workers evacuated Fukushima Daiichi after earthquake shook the plant
According to Yoshizawa, more than 6,000 workers were on duty when the monster earthquake first shook the plant. The vast majority evacuated.
“First, I worried if (those 6,000) people could evacuate safely. Tsunami eventually came less than one hour after the earthquake, but even in normal times” it takes 20 to 40 minutes for everyone simply to get out of the plant’s compound, Yoshizawa said.
Reactor 1 explosion felt as if jolts were knocking up through the floor
Masatoshi Fukura, then the operation chief of reactors 1 through 4, said about 40 key personnel stayed in the two central control rooms during the first 48 hours of the crisis.
“When the (hydrogen) explosion occurred at reactor No. 1, (workers in the control rooms) felt as if strong jolts were knocking up through the floor. All the veneer fell from the ceiling, and rooms were all covered with white dust,” Fukura said. Breathing in dust contaminated with radioactive materials is extremely dangerous, so the workers were forced to wear full face masks with filters at all times throughout the crisis, even though it made breathing difficult.
One of the representatives headed a firefighter squad at Fukushima Daiichi.
“I was injured by the (hydrogen) explosion at reactor No. 1,” he said. “All of the glass windows in our fire engine were shattered, and debris hit my hand and broke the bones.”
Reactor 3 explosion demolished rescue vehicles on-site
The scariest moment for one of the six, who was struggling to repair the critical power equipment needed to cool the reactors, was when a hydrogen explosion in the building housing reactor 3 ripped apart the entire top floor.
He had assigned his staff to work near the building. Later, he learned that a car they had driven there was flattened by debris from the blast. “The staff had a narrow escape,” he said. “Tears welled up in my eyes when I finally made contact with them.”
Night-time operations without communications
The most agonizing experience for another of the six who declined to be identified was trying to persuade his staff to go outside to repair the damaged power equipment in the dead of night.
“We knew the reactors were unstable. . . . But the night was dark, and they could have been electrocuted. There was no means of communications” such as cellphones, he said.
“My staff were too scared to go. They asked me sternly, ‘Will we be able to return safely if we go out now?’ ” the man recalled.
Source: The Japan Times