September 01, 2014
A former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employee who worked to bring the nuclear disaster at the company’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant under control has welcomed the release of a report recording the words of the late chief of the plant immediately after the disaster broke out.
“I had wanted to know this information for a long time,” the worker, who is in his late 20s, said. The report provides testimony that former plant chief Masao Yoshida provided to the government’s Investigation Committee on the Accident at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Stations.
The former worker, whose name is being withheld, said he was supported by the sight of Yoshida dealing with head office executives without budging an inch. At the same time he says he and other workers were insulted by news reports that claimed 90 percent of workers had disobeyed orders and left the plant.
On March 12, 2011, the worker was heading by car to the plant’s No. 1 reactor, where work was continuing to inject coolant water into the reactor core, when the first hydrogen explosion hit. The force of the explosion shook his car vertically, and he temporarily fell senseless. When he came to, he saw that the reactor building had been blown apart. He was just 100 meters away.
Workers continued toiling at the plant without sleep, but on the morning of March 14, the building housing the No. 3 reactor exploded, and that evening he heard that the No. 2 reactor was also in serious danger. His boss, who was normally calm, aimlessly murmured, “We’re done for, you know.”
As clocks ticked past midnight, marking the start of a new day, several hundred workers continued to wait on the first floor of the plant’s main quake-resistant building. At dawn, someone came from the emergency response office on the second floor of the building, from which Yoshida and other officials had taken command, and told them to leave.
The heavy double-layer doors of the building were opened, and the workers headed by bus and car to the Fukushima No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant.
The workers napped for about two hours before being woken up by his boss, with instructions to return to the No. 1 plant. A fire had broken out in the building housing the plant’s No. 4 reactor, and help was needed, he was told. His co-workers said they would return, and he had no option but to go along with them.
“I want to return alive,” he thought. But at the same time he felt he couldn’t give up when Yoshida was trying so hard to handle the disaster. During television conferences in the emergency response office, he saw Yoshida ripping into executives from the head office numerous times. At the same time, Yoshida dealt with young workers who went in to hand over material in a friendly manner, which made him happy.
An article that appeared in the Asahi Shimbun in May that year stated that workers pulled out in violation of Yoshida’s orders. The worker objects to this report. “At the time there was a shared awareness among workers that we would be evacuating to the Fukushima No. 2 plant,” he said. If workers had searched for places to evacuate to on the grounds of the No. 1 plant “everyone would have died, fully masked, if they had stayed there for several hours,” he said.
It was on April 2, 2011, that the worker finally left the No. 1 plant and went home. He later resigned from TEPCO, and has found new work. But even now, he is afflicted by flashbacks. Soon after the accident, he went to inspect equipment in the building housing the plant’s No. 3 reactor. Shouldering an oxygen tank, he finished his work inside, where radiation levels were high, and tried to open the double-entry doors, but there had been a power cut, and when he pressed the button nothing happened. For several minutes he struggled until he found the emergency release lever. He thought he was going to be trapped inside and die. He breaks into a cold sweat when he remembers the scene.
The man feels that the records containing Yoshida’s testimony will guide him when he faces crises in his life in the future.
“These records are a compass for me in my life,” he says.