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Heroism of Fukushima’s nuclear emergency workers


France Info 7th March 2021, For four days and four nights in March 2011, hundreds of workers tried, sometimes risking their lives, to contain the damage from the earthquake
and tsunami that destroyed the Japanese nuclear power plant.

”……….March 11, 2011, 3:27 p.m. The ocean begins to hit the enclosure of the nuclear power plant. A first wave about 4 meters high crashes against the dike. But ten minutes later, a wave some 15 meters high swept over Fukushima Daiichi. The doors of the turbine buildings are not watertight: the generators, electric meters and batteries are flooded. Vehicles and rubble litter the roads. Two operators who had gone to watch the machines in the basement of reactor building 4 drowned.

On the second floor of the earthquake-resistant building, all the lights go out. It’s pitch black in this windowless building. Worse, the measurement indicators no longer work. Impossible to know the temperature and the pressure inside the reactors, therefore to know if the emergency cooling systems are still functioning. However, if the water level in a reactor drops, the fuel rods heat up and can melt until they pierce the concrete enclosure and cause a major nuclear disaster.

“We were left speechless”
“At that time, it was astonishment. We were all so devastated that we were left speechless,” recalls Masao Yoshida during an audition transcribed in A story of Fukushima (PUF editions), by Franck Guarnieri and Sébastien Travadel. The scarce information is communicated to the two external crisis units which are set up 250 km away, in Tokyo. One at the headquarters of Tepco, the company that operates the plant; the other at Kantei, the residence of the Prime Minister.

The teams take action. Two solutions are being considered for cooling the reactors: using diesel engine fire pumps or fire trucks which are already on the site. In the absence of a measuring system, the employees concentrate first on Reactor 2. What they do not know is that the back-up system is operating there. The emergency is actually located in reactor 1. Around 6 p.m., its heart begins to melt inside the containment……..

The teams take action. Two solutions are being considered for cooling the reactors: using diesel engine fire pumps or fire trucks which are already on the site. In the absence of a measuring system, the employees concentrate first on Reactor 2. What they do not know is that the back-up system is operating there. The emergency is actually located in reactor 1. Around 6 p.m., its core begins to melt inside the containment.
That’s when they were most irradiated”
Among employees, fear of radiation escalates. “The state of Reactor 1 scared young people,” said Ryuta Idogawa, one of the plant’s reactor pilots, in an interview with Yuki Kobayashi, a doctoral student in science and engineering of risky activities. Despite the danger, however, it is necessary to choose men to open the valves of the reactors manually.

Around 4 am, the injection of fresh water, stored on site in the event of a problem, is finally launched into reactor 1. “When we saw water coming out of the pipe and reaching the reactor, we all yelled, ‘Yes!’ and raised our fists in the air “, tells the Telegraph * Kazuhiko Fukudome, one of the firefighters involved in the accident. Workers are constantly refueling the trucks to operate the water pump. “I think that’s when they were most irradiated,” admits Masao Yoshida.

……… “We sent men and it exploded”

March 13, 2011, 2:42 a.m. While the situation in reactor 1 appears to have stabilized, it is the turn of the reactor 3 emergency cooling system to cease functioning. New operations must be relaunched, but fatigue begins to be felt. “How long can we continue to work without ever sleeping? The answer is 36 hours. That’s the limit for all men,” said Takeyuki Inagaki, group leader at the plant, in an interview with Yuki Kobayashi. This duration has just been reached by the employees, fed on rice bars and instant noodles. Even Masao Yoshida dozes off.

However, new operations resume before sunrise. Reactor 3 must be ventilated and cooled. After a few hours of hard work amidst the debris, the workers succeed in hooking up new pumps and watering the building to prevent overheating. Several of them are exposed to doses of radioactivity greater than 100 millisieverts (mSv), according to the Japanese nuclear safety agency, or five times more than the annual dose authorized in France for employees in the sector.

March 14, 2011, 11:01 a.m. A new explosion, even more impressive than the first, resonates in the heart of the plant. “HQ! HQ! It’s terrible! We have a problem on site number 3!” shouts Masao Yoshida, in a recording of the Crisis Staff. This time, it is the reactor building 3 which is blown up because of the hydrogen. The manager has to face his decisions: “I was sorry. We weren’t sure, but we thought it would not explode right away. We sent men and it exploded,” he admits. .

“Right after the explosion, when I learned that there were about 40 missing, I really iexpected to die. myself.”

Masao Yoshida, director of the plant before a commission of inquiry.
The explosion ultimately caused no death, but a dozen injured. It also has an immediate consequence for the plant: the destruction of the emergency cooling system of reactor 2. “I think that is the moment when I hit rock bottom. I saw us all dead,” says Masao Yoshida. On this Monday morning, the teams are overwhelmed. “I will never forget that afternoon. My stomach ached as if a block of lead was left there,” recalls group leader Takeyuki Inagaki.

”I ask you to sacrifice your lives”
In the middle of the afternoon, the director begins to envisage an evacuation of the few hundred non-essential employees of the plant. He orders that coaches be ready to leave in case of further complications. But shortly before 8 p.m. the hard work of the workers paid off. The injection of sea water begins in reactor 2. Reluctant to any evacuation of the employees, the Prime Minister addresses them during a night videoconference: “I ask you to sacrifice your lives.”
March 15, 2011, 6:14 a.m. It has been four days since the disaster struck, and employees must continue their endless battle against the elements. This time, it is a leak in the enclosure of reactor 2 which causes an explosion and damages reactor 4. Luckily, the explosion does not cut off the seawater cooling system of the first three reactors. The exhausted workers managed to stabilize these time bombs and contain what could have turned out to be a much more deadly disaster.

“There is a special bond between us. I cannot express it in words. I imagine that it is the camaraderie that can be between soldiers in time of war, will tell the Guardian later * l One of the engineers, Atsufumi Yoshizawa. In our case, the enemy was the nuclear power plant. And we fought it together. ” This Tuesday, reinforcements will finally arrive from the surrounding power plants to restore power supplies and build protective structures. The closed-door hell of Fukushima Daiichi power plant workers is over.

https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/japon/fukushima/recit-dix-ans-apres-la-catastrophe-de-fukushima-plongee-dans-l-enfer-de-la-centrale-ravagee-je-nous-voyais-tous-morts_4310377.html

March 8, 2021 - Posted by | - Fukushima 2011, Religion and ethics

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