World Bulletin/News Desk
Most of the 720 workers struggling to contain the nuclear power accident at Fukushima briefly gave up the struggle, and fled to another nearby nuclear station undamaged by the 2011 super earthquake and tsunami, according to a document obtained by a Japanese newspaper.
According to an Asahi Shimbun report this week, 720 workers were on site on the morning of March 15. It was four days after a tsunami had put almost all of the plant's backup safety systems out of operation, and three hydrogen explosions and the total meltdown of the cores of three reactors had left the plant at a critical juncture.
About 650 of them, including many key managers, quickly hitched rides on buses or drove their own cars to the relative safety of the nearby Fukushima Daini (No. 2) nuclear plant about 10 km away. The four reactors on this site had been safely shut down after the earthquake.
They left behind 68 workers, including plant superintendent Masao Yoshida, whom the press immediately dubbed the “Fukushima 50” - in the process building the "unselfish devotion to duty" legend which led to the workers becoming heralded by Japanese society. Most of the others, however, returned to the stricken plant within days, augmented by more manpower from other plants and a contingent of Tokyo firemen.
That same morning former Prime Minister Naoto Kan had been awakened at 3 a.m. with alarming reports that utility owner Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) had “abandoned” the site. He went to Tepco’s Tokyo headquarters where he berated the company officials and urged workers “to put your lives on the line.”
Much of the controversy revolves around what, exactly, did the plant superintendent say in his verbal directives that morning, as this has never been mentioned prior to the release of this week's documents.
Plant Manager Masao Yoshida was clearly concerned over reports that a hydrogen explosion in Unit-2 had ruptured the reactor containment, allowing the potential uncontrolled release of much higher radiation doses.
According to Tepco’s interpretation, Yoshida urged the workers to temporarily move to more distant parts of the plant site until the situation at Unit-2 became clearer - to this day it is not certain whether Unit-2 actually had a hydrogen explosion such as the ones that damaged three other units.
The newspaper article maintains that the workers who fled to the Fukushima Daini plant site either misconstrued Yoshida’s directive or took things into their own hands. Yoshida, who died of esophageal cancer last July, is no longer around to correct the record.
The Japanese newspaper based its story on actual transcripts pertaining to the parliamentary investigation into the accident. The conclusions of the investigating committee were made public, but the transcript of more than 700 people interviewed in the course of the investigation had been kept by the cabinet office until this week.
The government’s main spokesman, Yoshide Suga - the chief cabinet secretary - did not explain why the raw transcripts of the interviews had not previously been made public, along with the report itself.
The Asahi Shimbun based its story on a 400-page transcript that covered, word-for-word, the 29 hours of conversations with Yoshida.
“Actually, I never told them to withdraw to 2F (Fukushima Daini). When I was told that they had gone to 2F it was already too late,” he reportedly told investigators.
All of Japan’s 48 serviceable nuclear reactors are currently offline, awaiting safety confirmation from the new Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) that they are safe enough to resume operation.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe considers at least partial reliance on nuclear power as part of his plan to kick-start the economy.Last Mod: 24 Mayıs 2014, 12:00