The towering wall of water battered cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 220 kilometres (135 miles) northeast of Tokyo, triggering reactor meltdowns and spewing radiation into the environment.
“This group of people represent the highest values of the human condition by trying to prevent, through their sacrifice, the nuclear disaster caused by the tsunami that struck Japan from multiplying its devastating effects, disregarding the grave consequences that this decision would have on their lives,” the jury said in a statement.
“Their courageous and exemplary behaviour has earned them the international epithet ‘heroes of Fukushima’,” they said as they conferred the award, which dates back to 1981.
Despite major uncertainty, the Fukushima workers endured high radiation on rotating shifts with only a few hours’ rest and limited supplies of food and drinking water, the jury said.
“As a result, many workers developed chronic pathologies such as arrhythmia and hyperventilationm,” it said.
“Despite these grave consequences, they continued to participate in the efforts to regain control of the nuclear plant, aware of how essential their work was to prevent a catastrophe of even greater magnitude.”
The jury identified three groups of people as the heroes of Fukushima:
— The 50 volunteer employees of the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company;
— The firefighters who worked to cool the reactors;
— And the Japanese armed forces who dumped water on the reactors from helicopters, cordoned off an exclusion zone and evacuated people when the reactors were emitting very high doses of radiation.
“The behaviour of these people has also embodied the values most deeply rooted in Japanese society, such as the sense of duty, personal and family sacrifice for the greater good and dignity in the face of adversity, humility, generosity and courage,” the jury said.
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