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Fukushima’s Earthquakes Show That Risk Is Inevitable

Beware: This article has a pro-nuclear spin! Preparedness has nothing to do with it, with nuclear you can never expect the expected to happen.

By accepting risk and planning for failure, communities are more likely to survive catastrophes.

March 16, 2022

About the author: Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for homeland security under President Barack Obama, is the faculty chair of the homeland-security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of the forthcoming book The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters.

Two hundred feet up in the foothills that surround Aneyoshi, a tiny coastal village in Japan, warnings are engraved into the rocks. Most of the messages come from 19th-century survivors of large tsunamis that terrorized people along the coast. “High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” one inscription declares. “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”

But more recent residents of coastal Japan did build below that point. Homes at first, but eventually nuclear facilities, which were built where they could be cooled by nearby ocean waters. On March 11, 2011, a massive undersea earthquake occurred east of Oshika Peninsula. The quake, which lasted six minutes and remains the fourth-most powerful ever recorded in the world, triggered tsunami waves that reached up to 130 feet above sea level. The rushing water ultimately led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, where a loss of power shut off the cooling system, resulting in hydrogen-gas accumulation. As surprised workers tried to cool the facility manually—using water from fire trucks—a gas buildup led to the expulsion of radioactive material into the atmosphere and groundwater. Part of Fukushima prefecture is still uninhabitable.

After the nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986, investigators blamed a combination of mechanical failure and operator error. The conventional narrative of Fukushima Daiichi’s demise has been somewhat more forgiving of the people running the plant that day. The earthquake and tsunami could not be blamed on them. The most fundamental error, news stories intimated, was putting a nuclear reactor in a location so obviously vulnerable to natural disaster. Previous generations had literally carved warnings in stone: Never again. Because TEPCO, the plant’s operator, had ignored them and built in a risky spot, tragedy was all but inevitable.

This made a tidy story, except for one thing: The Onagawa nuclear-power plant also sits below the rock warnings, but it withstood the earthquake and tsunami. Onagawa was about 30 miles closer to the epicenter of the earthquake than the Daiichi facility was. It experienced the strongest ground shaking of any of the nuclear facilities in the area—or indeed of any nuclear facility in recorded history. Operated by the Tohoku Electric Power Company, the Onagawa reactor did not melt down. It suffered no serious damage. The differing fates of Fukushima Daiichi and Onagawa cannot be explained by the movement of the Earth, because neither plant heeded the century-old warnings.

Never again is a common refrain after traumatic disasters, but it’s also a hard promise to keep. Memories fade over time. But more important, societies change, and so do their risk calculations. Accepting risk is not itself a form of negligence; Japan needed domestic energy sources to power its economy in the decades after World War II, and nuclear-power plants near the coast became essential to the country’s growth. The problem at Fukushima—unlike at Onagawa—was that its designers and managers did not acknowledge or make provision for the risk they had undertaken, so the plant was unprepared when disaster struck.

This was a dangerous omission. Events that threaten human life and safety do not strike at random, nor are they particularly rare. Indeed, an earthquake off the coast of Fukushima today left millions of people in Japan without power—and put residents on alert once again for potential tsunamis. All modern societies face environmental hazards; rely on complex, and in some cases dangerous, technologies; and link up to global trade and transportation networks that move pathogens as well as people.

Onagawa’s strength was simple: The nuclear plant’s operators understood that failure was possible, perhaps even inevitable, so they committed themselves to failing safely. Like Fukushima Daiichi, Onagawa was located near the coast. But its designers had studied past tsunamis and built at an elevation several meters higher than that of its ill-fated counterpart. Long before the earthquake, Tohoku Electric had also required extensive emergency training and scenario planning, including for a massive tsunami, so Onagawa’s employees were ready to shut it down. Departing from the hierarchical norms of Japanese corporate culture, headquarters had delegated authority to the plant managers to react in the moment. Simply put, Onagawa’s employees had their act together. Fukushima’s owners had done far less to create a safety culture, and during the meltdown required leadership’s approval for every crisis decision. That doesn’t work in real time.

For most of my career, I have studied disasters, managed government responses to them, and advised elected leaders and business executives about how to plan for them. I have come to think that the very word disaster wrongly excuses us from the obligation to plan for failure. The word’s original meaning, from Middle French and Old Italian, comes from the prefix dis-, signifying a negative force, and astro, for star—implying that disruptive events occur only because the stars were aligned against us, not because of anything we did or didn’t do. The word catastrophe,derived from a Greek word meaning “sudden turn,” has a similar connotation: It’s just bad luck, befalling a passive population with no capacity to manage destruction that nobody could have foreseen.

But we should not be surprised by natural catastrophes, viral variants, sneak attacks, or other tragedies. The devil never sleeps, I argue in my forthcoming book. The good news is that the means to minimize the resulting harm from sudden shocks are always the same: making sure the risk is communicated and widely understood; preparing individuals to respond to a range of scenarios; ensuring redundancies in safety systems, so that none becomes the last line of defense; testing those systems; challenging the fallacy that a near miss implies immunity from a future calamity; and making adjustments after past mistakes.

People in my field describe the event precipitating a crisis—an earthquake, a hurricane, the emergence of a new virus—as the “boom,” and we divide time and human activity into two phases: “left of boom” and “right of boom.” The former includes the steps we take to prevent the boom from happening in the first place; the latter is what we do in the moments after, and then the weeks and months following, to minimize the harm. But we would be better prepared if we no longer viewed disasters as a surprise moment in time. A society that studiously prepares to fail safer—that makes preparation for what will happen right of boom—is a stronger one than a society that focuses a majority of its efforts on avoiding the failure itself.

Fukushima Daiichi’s operator, I should note, didn’t do enough of either. After the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many in Japan were deeply apprehensive about using nuclear energy to address the country’s needs. TEPCO, Japan’s leading nuclear-power operator, managed to convince itself that it had essentially eliminated any risk. According to Akihisa Shiozaki, a lawyer who organized an independent investigation of the Fukushima disaster, the country was sold a myth: “the absolute safeness” of nuclear power. A later government report blamed an industry mindset that ignored the possibility that even in a nuclear disaster, preparedness could go far in “limiting the consequential damage.” Instead, local opposition had to be managed as more nuclear reactors were built, which in many cases meant not talking about the potential for a worst-case scenario.

Not planning for the right of boom makes sudden shocks of all kinds—including the extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change—far more deadly than they might otherwise be. In 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. To this day, we still do not know how many people died there. One reason death estimates varied so widely is that most of the deaths were not a direct result of the hurricane itself but downstream consequences of power outages. The losses cascaded: Without electricity, deprivations of water, food, and medicines left people vulnerable. Damage to power infrastructure is a predictable outcome of a hurricane. A faster restoration of the grid—in the absence of preparations that would have made it more resistant to failure in the first place—would have saved many lives.

This logic does not only apply after natural disasters. Before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military had not adapted its battlefield-medicine rules for an age of urban warfare and improvised explosive devices. Existing rules prioritized carrying injured soldiers away from enemy lines to a medic tent or back to base. But those enemy lines were not always clearly defined in America’s post-9/11 conflicts, and many of the wounded bled to death before they could receive proper care. To prevent injuries to American soldiers, the Pentagon made massive investments in armor design and mine-resistant, ambush-protected light tactical vehicles to protect U.S. troops from harm. But those improvements were not enough. Right-of-boom protocols needed to evolve too: So the military began training field soldiers, most of whom were not medics, to use tourniquets right away to save the life of team members wounded in IED attacks. These efforts—which have since spawned a civilian public-awareness campaign called “Stop the Bleed”—were a way to minimize harm even after a life-threatening event had already occurred.

Planning to fail safely is different from trying to eliminate all risk—which is usually impossible. At this point two years into a global pandemic, for example, even stringent lockdowns are unlikely to prevent all transmission of the coronavirus. When the CDC recently decided to use rates of death and hospitalization, rather than overall infection, as its primary metrics for the severity of the problem, the agency implicitly chose to minimize the negative consequences of the virus rather than try to suppress it altogether. Furthermore, attempts to banish one kind of risk may make others worse. After the Fukushima disaster, Germany began phasing out nuclear power altogether—a decision that has left it more dependent on fossil fuel from Russia.

Deliberately accepting some risks, and then being prepared when disaster strikes, will serve human societies better than pretending we can achieve perfect safety. We cannot prevent an earthquake or a tsunami, but we have control over how much death and destruction it causes.

What happened at Fukushima wasn’t just bad fortune; Onagawa didn’t get lucky. Most people outside Japan have never heard of Onagawa because it was ready to fail under the same conditions that proved cataclysmic at Fukushima. And in disaster management, anonymity—not fame—is a sign of success.


March 20, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Workers Tell The Harrowing Story Of How They Tamed One Of The World’s Worst Nuclear Disasters

When the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant overheated in March 2011, these heroic workers stepped in. To this day, most people are unaware of their achievements.


This story, by Fukushima Central Television, Co., Ltd., was published in partnership with HuffPost Japan and is translated from the original Japanese footage.

In 2011, three nuclear reactors melted down, provoking a series of hydrogen explosions and resulting in the world’s most severe nuclear accident. It happened in Japan, which had been long celebrated as a technology powerhouse.

At the time of the accident, the site became a veritable death trap, with extremely high levels of radioactivity and chunks of concrete from the explosion raining down on workers. And yet, there were some who remained on the ground to try and bring the overheating nuclear power plant to a halt.

“I just couldn’t run away when my country was about to sink,” one of the workers said. If this story can be told at all, it is precisely thanks to those who faced one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters out of a sense of pride in their country’s technology, attachment to the community and loyalty to their jobs.

The magnitude 9 Great East Japan Earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time on March 11, 2011. Soon after, a large tsunami hit the ground level of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which consisted of six nuclear reactors.

Satoru Umematsu, a veteran electrical engineer who had taken part in building the ground floor, was there when it happened. Umematsu was 60 at the time, and fast approaching retirement age.

When the nuclear power plant’s power transmission tower was knocked down by the force of the earthquake, causing the loss of external power supply, emergency generators kicked in, ensuring that cooling pumps could continue to function.

When the tsunami struck, however, the emergency generators of reactors 1 through 4, located about 33 feet (10 meters) above sea level, were flooded and stopped working.

When Umematsu rushed to the plant’s earthquake-proof building, about 115 feet (35 meters) above sea level, where the emergency response room was set up, it was packed with people. Inside, ashen-faced power plant executives were bustling around in a frenzy.

A Strategy Forms

As Umematsu and the others realized that the reactors could no longer be cooled down, they moved to secure a vehicle-mounted generator and power cables in order to generate electricity and restore the power supply.

“It was unimaginable that a nuclear power plant would lose all power. So, when it did actually happen, we were overcome by a tremendous sense of urgency,” he said.

For Umematsu, who had experienced all kinds of situations at different job sites in the course of his career, this crisis was an absolute first.

After graduating from junior high school and acquiring engineering skills at a vocational training center, Umematsu had accumulated over 40 years of experience in electrical construction sites, including power generation dams and nuclear power plants. He was familiar with most electrical systems in nuclear power plants. He was proud of the technological capabilities Japan had acquired after World War II and would proudly tell his relatives of his work at the nuclear power plant. He was relied upon by subordinates and colleagues, who respectfully referred to him as “Ume-san.”

Satoru Umematsu belonged to an electric construction group, affiliated company of TEPCO.
Satoru Umematsu belonged to an electric construction group, affiliated company of TEPCO.

In order to complete their task in the shortest possible time, Umematsu and his crew devised a simple strategy. To restore the power supply, they would park the vehicle-mounted generator next to the reactor building and link it to the nuclear power plant by connecting the power cables.

Opening A Path For The Truck-Mounted Generator

However, even the task of moving the truck-mounted generator closer to the reactor building was a daunting one. All kinds of debris and rubble brought by the tsunami littered the area around the reactor building, obstructing the passage of vehicles.

It wasn’t the power plant staff, the Self-Defense Forces, the fire department, nor the police who tackled this problem — it was a local resident.

Yoshishige Tochimoto was the managing director of a local company with about 10 employees. He was 51 at the time. When the earthquake struck, he witnessed the destruction of the nuclear power plant’s critical equipment.

Yoshishige Tochimoto.

“When the power transmission tower on the slope was brought down by the earthquake, it generated huge sparks. They were pink in color. Between 10 to 20 meters in length,” he said.

Situation of damage caused by the tsunami (Photo: TEPCO)

Tochimoto was on the premises as a subcontractor, doing seismic retrofitting work on the nuclear power plant. As he felt the ground shaking, he said he was unable to stand on his feet.

His own car was washed away by the tsunami that followed the earthquake. Luckily, his company’s excavator had suffered virtually no damage and only the caterpillar tracks had been submerged.

Wary of being exposed to radiation, Tochimoto had not actively sought out nuclear-related work in the past. But now he accidentally found himself on the scene of a nuclear disaster.

“This could be really bad, I thought,” he said.

‘I Won’t Be Gone For Long’

Workers from Tochimoto’s business and other local companies assembled in the parking lot in front of the earthquake-proof building.

They took a roll call to ensure everyone was safe. Then, the prime contractor company instructed them to “disband,” as it was feared that some of the workers would have lost some family members, or their homes would have been damaged. Tochimoto remembered what the other workers were talking about at the time.

“There was talk of opening a vent hole to prevent a hydrogen explosion,” he said.

A hydrogen explosion. He was unfamiliar with that word. The matter, however, seemed completely unrelated to him.

Exhaust tower of Units 1 and 2 (Photo: TEPCO)

Worried about his wife and children, he decided to go back to his home, approximately 8 miles (13 kilometers) away. Since his car at the nuclear power plant had been washed away by the tsunami, he asked an acquaintance for a ride home.

What would normally be a 30-minute ride ended up taking them two hours, as the road was heavily congested with people evacuating. After getting home and making sure that everyone in his family was safe, he got a call from the prime contractor company.

“Will you help us fix the nuclear power plant?”

Land side of the reactor building (Photo: TEPCO)

The roads inside the nuclear power plant were impassable by vehicles as they were covered in rubble and fissures in the asphalt had caused uneven gaps. Tochimoto thought that, if it was only a matter of fixing the road, it would not take long and he would be back home soon.

“I won’t be gone for long,” he told his family as he headed toward the Daiichi power plant. The time was around 7:30 pm.

Restoring Power, Fighting Against Fear

It took until nighttime to prepare the equipment needed to restore power. With preparations over, Umematsu gathered some young workers from the power plant and explained to them how to handle the power cables and how to route them.

The cables in question were special high-voltage cables called “Triplex,” which could suffer damage if dragged over the ground. The workers would have to connect the heavy cables, each 1-meter section weighing about 13 pounds (6 kilograms), from the truck-mounted generator parked outside the building to the power panel inside. Due to the building’s complex structure, they would have to lay the cable over a distance of about 130 meters. Many of the team’s members had no previous experience in handling that kind of equipment.

“As graduates of Japan’s most prestigious universities, they knew the theory, but had never actually connected a high-voltage cable. I was the only one who could tell them how to go about it.”

TEPCO employees recording data in the central control room of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Units 1 and 2 (provided by NISA)

However, at around 11:00 p.m., radiation levels several tens of times higher than usual were detected inside the building of the Unit 1 reactor. The pressure on the steel “containment vessel” enclosing the reactor holding the nuclear fuel was about to exceed the permissible values. The director of the power plant immediately forbade anyone from entering the Unit 1 building. The signs were unmistakable that the feared meltdown had begun.

If the workers did not complete the operation swiftly, they too could have been exposed to lethal doses of radiation. If only the power supply could be restored, the looming crisis could be averted. It was up to Umematsu to make it possible.

“I’m pretty sure we were all scared. Extremely scared,” he said. “But being scared is different from being hesitant. Some were actually hesitant and did not want to go. We were certainly scared. Incredibly scared. After all, we were going to an unknown site. However, while being scared, we behaved normally.”

Unit 2 Central Control Room, which became pitch black due to a power outage (provided by NISA)

Since Umematsu was not a regular power plant employee, normally he would have been advised to go home. Instead, the power plant managers, relying on his skills, asked him to stay. Umematsu could have walked away while he still did not know how much radiation he would be exposed to. Instead, he chose to listen to his heart.

“I knew my skills were about to be put to the test,” he said. “I was glad my know-how could be of help in such a situation. When your country is as likely to stay afloat as it is to sink, you can’t quit just because you’re scared or because radiation levels are high.”

At that point, he still hadn’t been able to contact his wife and children. Nonetheless, as an engineer, he decided to throw himself into the task and went to work near the reactor building.

An Unsung Achievement

The truck-mounted generator, however, was still a long way away from being able to approach the reactor building. The road had yet to be repaired in order to make that possible. Fissures in the road caused height differences as much as a meter high. Tochimoto’s team studied the situation and considered what to do.

A proposal was made to bring in gravel from a nearby quarry to fill in the gaps, but was abandoned because it would have taken too long. Tochimoto thought that, as long as vehicles could pass, anything would do.

When he tried to turn the key to his company’s excavator, the engine came to life. Using the tip of the excavator’s bucket, he began to strip the asphalt coating in the parts of the road where the gaps were. He then proceeded to remove the gravel from under the paved surface and to press the surface down so as to create a gently sloping incline, at which point it looked as if a car might just be able to go through.

Removal of rubble by heavy machinery (Photo: TEPCO)

“While I was trying to open a road with the excavator, most of the people were actually watching me,” he said.

It seems that it was only thanks to Tochimoto and his excavator that the road was fixed. In just three hours, working by himself, he managed to repair the road inside the nuclear power plant so that vehicles could reach the reactor building.

Had Tochimoto not been there, it wouldn’t have been possible for the truck-mounted generator to approach the building to restore power, nor for fire engines to reach the same building and try to cool down the reactor.

To this day, most people are unaware of his achievement.

Because the road was fixed quickly, vehicles were able to reach the area around the reactor building by midnight. In the following hours, Tochimoto joined forces with workers from other companies to remove the rubble scattered around the reactor building.

A week after the accident, when a Hyper Rescue Team from the Tokyo Fire Department entered the area to cool off the fuel, one of its leaders said: “We were utterly surprised to see how the area surrounding the power plant had been cleared of debris to the point that not a single stone was visible, and our vehicles were able to approach without a hitch.”

Situation of rubble scattered by the explosion (provided by the Ministry of Defense)

The Real Risky Work Begins

Around midnight, a movable generator and a truck loaded with high-voltage cables smashed the nuclear protection gate and headed toward the reactor building.

Directing operations was Umematsu, the veteran engineer. He was hoping that, by connecting the movable generator to the power supply point near the Unit 1 reactor building, power could be restored, and the cooling pumps could start functioning once again.

The power cable was laid out near the reactor building, where radiation levels kept rising. The riskiest part of the work was about to begin.

Unit 2 power supply room (photographed by TEPCO)

Their efforts, however, had to be repeatedly interrupted as magnitude 4 and 5 aftershocks followed one after another. After a tsunami of such enormity, it was only natural that the area would have to be evacuated every time a tremor hit. Umematsu was getting impatient.

“We could have restored the power supply in five or six hours. However, we had to stop working and leave every time an aftershock struck, so things hardly moved at all. We went at it all night long, but most of the time we were sitting on our hands,” he said.

Radiation Levels 30,000 Times Higher Than Normal

A few hours have passed. At a press conference at 3 a.m. on March 12, Yukio Edano, chief cabinet secretary at the time, announced that he instructed workers to open a vent to release the pressure accumulated inside the Unit 1 reactor. Unless internal pressure is lowered in the reactor, he explained, the entire steel pressure vessel enclosing the nuclear fuel will explode. If that were to happen, huge amounts of radioactive material would be scattered across the surrounding area.

However, opening the required valve to ventilate the reactor building was an extremely difficult operation. The power plant operators assembled a “suicide squad” that rushed to where the valve was located, but radiation levels were so high that they had to turn back.

Umematsu wearing a mask and white protective clothes in the bus heading to the site.

Around 6 a.m., just outside the building, Umematsu’s crew began full-scale operations to connect the power cable. Umematsu used a phone to report on progress to the emergency response office. As reception was poor, he kept moving around looking for a place where it would be easier to talk.

Without realizing it, he ended up nearby the exhaust tower through which steam exited the vent. At exactly the same time, efforts to open the valve from the outside finally succeeded.

Steam containing huge amounts of radioactive particles instantly rushed out of the exhaust tower, thoroughly irradiating Umematsu. “When I was near the exhaust tower, the dosimeter, which had been unresponsive for a while, suddenly came back to life with a loud BEEEEP. While cursing my luck, I had no choice but to continue working,” he said.

Japanese law sets maximum exposure levels for the general public at less than 1 millisievert per year (approximately 0.0027 millisieverts per day). Umematsu, on the other hand, was exposed to over 80 millisieverts in just one day.

Just As The Cable Was Connected …

The release vent is believed to have been successfully opened around 2:30 p.m. on March 12. Immediately after, efforts to connect the power cables, which had continued throughout the night, came to a successful completion.

It was now simply a matter of turning on the movable generator to restore power. Umematsu’s crew, in order to exchange places with the group that would operate the movable generator, had to leave the area and temporarily adjourn to the emergency response office in the earthquake-proof building.

“I believe it’s the same in power plants everywhere. Before moving on to the next job, you must let everyone know and get permission. You can’t proceed solely on your own judgment,” he said. “I would always let machine operators know that I finished this task, that I performed that check, and so on, then I would clear things with my superior, and only then would I proceed to the next task.”

Rubble was scattered all over due to the hydrogen explosion (Photo: TEPCO)

It all happened exactly at moment Umematsu and his crew arrived at the emergency response office.

“It wasn’t a ‘whump,’ or a ‘thud,’ it was more like a popping sound,” he said.

At 3:36 p.m. on March 12, a hydrogen explosion shook the Unit 1 reactor.

For an unknown reason, the hydrogen that had filled the reactor building suddenly caught on fire and exploded. Concrete chunks from the gutted building flew across the entire area of the nuclear reactor at tremendous speeds.

“Find an empty car!”

Umematsu was shouting at the nearby workers at the top of his lungs. Radioactive rubble and insulation material was falling from the sky. He sensed that he would be exposed to considerable amounts of radiation just by touching it.

Fukushima Central Television

A fire engine happened to be parked nearby. The workers squeezed into the front and back seats one after another. Over 10 people crammed into a space normally meant for six. They kept the door closed for about 10 minutes. Holding their breath, they waited for the pollutants to pass by.

“‘There’s no going back now. The unthinkable has happened,’ I thought to myself. At that point I felt courage sweep over me. If you are on the scene of a Chernobyl-like disaster, it makes no difference anymore whether you’re inside or outside the reactor,” Umematsu said.

The hydrogen explosion shredded the power cables.

The surrounding area was once again littered with rubble. The repair work being carried out at reactors 2 and 3 had to start anew, which led to the following crisis.

The hydrogen explosion in the Unit 1 reactor could have been averted if only power could have been immediately supplied through the cable Umematsu’s crew had connected … The future could have been different. The expression on Umematsu’s face as his thoughts wandered back to those days, betrayed a deep anguish.

“Back then, if someone could have been with me at the site to issue instructions, if someone had said to me, ‘Leave things with me here and get ready to run power through the cables the instant they are connected,’ we could have done it,” he said.

Satoru Umematsu. Fukushima Central Television

“I immensely regret that we all went up to the office, even though the cables had been connected and we were ready to go. Looking back now, I feel we may have been too complacent,” he said.

Umematsu continued to work to connect the power supply into the following day, but from March 14, his radiation exposure had been so high that he was no longer allowed to work on-site. On the 15th, he had to evacuate the area and move outside of the nuclear power plant site.

It was then that, for the first time since the earthquake, he was finally able to talk on the phone to his eldest son.

Umematsu said: “We’re really in a dire situation, but we’re not panicking yet, so don’t worry!”

One week later, Umematsu returned to the Daiichi power plant.

TEPCO Fukushima Central Television

While he was not allowed to work on-site, he could still help out by preparing food and drinks for those working on-site in a contaminated environment.
“If it hadn’t been for them, the emergency wouldn’t be over, you know.”

Stronger Than Fear, An Obligation To Help

At the time of the Unit 1 reactor explosion, Tochimoto, who had been working on repairing the road and removing rubble, was taking a break in the earthquake-proof building.

“‘What the hell is this!’ I thought. It came as a huge shock,” he said.

He waited for a few minutes and when he went outside, concrete and heat-insulating materials were scattered everywhere. Realizing that unless the area was again cleared of debris, vehicles wouldn’t be able to pass, he resumed working next to the reactor building.

“There was definitely radioactivity in the air, but I hadn’t been given a dosimeter so I had no way to tell,” he said.

Fukushima Central Television/Provided by: Ministry of Defense

Around him, some workers were scared of going to the work area, fearing that another explosion might follow. After all, who wouldn’t be afraid of working at a site rife with radiation as chunks of concrete rained down?

As for Tochimoto, however, another thought had begun to take hold in him. “Stronger than fear was the awareness that I had to do something about it. I felt I had to do everything in my power to help with the situation, even more so since I was a local,” he said.

Tochimoto was born and raised in Fukushima’s Futaba district, where the Daiichi power plant is located. Up until the time the nuclear power plant was built, the area was jokingly referred to as “the Fukushima boondocks,” because of how poor it was.

During the off-season for farmers, Tochimoto’s father would go look for work in big cities like Tokyo. In order to make ends meet and put food on the table, that’s what a lot of families had to do. As his father would only come home once a month, and sometimes not even then, Tochimoto says they never really had time together as a family.

After years of working hard away from home, his father learned how to operate a dump truck and eventually established the family’s heavy machinery company.

Fukushima Central Television

In the following years, the building of the nuclear power plant brought jobs and employment to the area, and the Tochimotos had a family life for the first time. They lived a quiet life, and the sight of his father playing with his grandchildren brought a smile to Tochimoto’s face.

“After things calmed down, my dad used to play a lot with his grandchildren. He would give them rides on his machines and play in many different ways with them. They were so cute,” he said.

The daily lives of local families, the foundation for which had been laid by his father’s generation, had prospered and continued to this day. Tochimoto recounted that while he faced extreme danger at the plant, as a local man, these memories were very strong in his mind.

To Leave Or To Go Back To The Nuclear Power Plant?

Tochimoto was once again opening a road through the rubble so vehicles could pass through. Unaware of how radioactive the scattered debris really was, he worked in close proximity to them, removing them one by one with the excavator.

At some point, the power plant’s female employees tried to evacuate from the area by minibus.

“They were already in the bus, but they couldn’t find a driver. When they asked if anybody could drive them, everyone fell quiet. Knowing that someone had to volunteer, I told them I’d do it. I felt I had to help in any way I could,” he said.

Fukushima Central Television/TEPCO

Driving the evacuation bus meant he would have to drive it back to the nuclear power plant so that more people could be evacuated again. Those being evacuated, on the other hand, would not return to the plant. He got at the wheel of the bus carrying the evacuees and headed to a junior high school outside the nuclear power plant premises. The thought of joining the evacuees himself crossed Tochimoto’s mind.

But eventually he made his way back to the nuclear power plant.

“A part of me didn’t want to go back, but there were still people working at the nuclear power plant. I headed back to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant while thinking all the time I really should be heading home,” he said.

A ‘Local Guy’ Fighting Alongside Special Forces

After returning to the nuclear power plant, Tochimoto, in addition to removing rubble, also took part in efforts to secure water to cool the reactor. They would go around the site in search of water accumulated in the facilities and transport it to the fire engine.

The system for directly cooling down the reactor was out of order at the time. They were therefore trying to cool it by connecting the fire hoses to pipes that would directly inject water into the reactor.

Fukushima Central Television/Ministry of Defense

On March 14, the Ground Self-Defense Forces arrived at the site where Tochimoto was working. It was the Central Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit, which was qualified to deal with chemical weapons, including radioactive materials.

After filling the water truck of the Self-Defense Forces with water from the pressure filter tank near the reactor building, six people, including Colonel Shinji Iwakuma, who led the unit, headed to the Unit 3 Reactor. Tochimoto and his crew were also busy pouring water from the same tank into a sprinkler truck.

“I heard a ‘BOOM!’ I looked up and I saw what resembled a mushroom cloud,” he said.

At 11:01 a.m. on March 14, a hydrogen explosion occurred in the Unit 3 reactor.

Once again, countless chunks of concrete fell down from the sky. The members of the Self-Defense Forces were directly below. Four out of six were seriously injured. One of them was bleeding and had to be urgently transported to a specialized medical center by helicopter due to the risk of internal radiation exposure. Tochimoto immediately jumped into a car and left the scene

Around the reactor building after the hydrogen explosion.
Fukushima Central Television/TEPCO

Tochimoto’s crew, in spite of witnessing two hydrogen explosions, resumed their work of removing the scattered rubble shortly after.

“I was told they were having problems at the power plant, so I was asked to help out. I couldn’t just say no. I thought I had no choice but work together with them. We had to assume we could turn things around,” he said.

Radiation levels within the nuclear power plant suddenly soared, and on the night of the 14th, Tochimoto too was finally ordered to evacuate. “Take it from here,” he said to the power plant staff, handing them the excavator’s key.

In spite of never having been closely associated with the nuclear power plant, he fought at the risk of his life until the very the last minute.

Like Umematsu, Tochimoto would later return to the Daiichi power plant. During the two weeks he was away, he learned how to remotely operate a concrete pump for injecting water into the reactor’s spent fuel pool and remained at the forefront of the efforts to resolve the emergency.

Eleven Years Later, ‘One Step At A Time, I Think Progress Is Being Made’

Following the successive meltdowns and hydrogen explosions, during a brief period of comparative calm, a system for cooling the reactor and the nuclear power plant began to be put in place. While Umematsu and Tochimoto were away, the Self-Defense Forces, the National Police Agency, the Tokyo Fire Department and the power plant’s own response team entered the site and began to work to restore power.

Thanks to them, it was finally possible to bring the overheating nuclear power plant to a halt at the last minute.

The worst-case scenario envisioned by the Japanese government, in which half of Japan would be destroyed and Tokyo itself would become uninhabitable, was thus averted by efforts on all sides.

The power plan at the center of this disaster continues to pose great risks. The nuclear fuel debris resulting from the meltdowns remains underground inside the plant. It is estimated to total about 880 tons and it continues to emit lethal doses of radiation, making it impossible for workers to approach it.

The Japanese government has joined forces with the power plant and Japanese companies like Toshiba, Hitachi and many others to tackle the removal of the debris, a difficult project and the world’s first of this kind. The only way to remove the debris is by remotely operated robots.

Eleven years after the accident, veteran engineer Umematsu returned to the site for an inspection.

He wanted to see once again the scene of the nuclear accident that had shattered Japan’s pride in the technological capabilities that had supported its postwar reconstruction, and which may still yield the opportunity for regaining that pride.

Robots small enough to navigate even the narrowest spaces inside this highly radioactive area were removing the rubble from inside the nuclear power plant piece by piece, while sending back images. All the workers operating the robots were young and are allowed to work only after months of training and simulations.

“Even a single piece of rubble is highly radioactive and dangerous. Even the smallest mistake can cause a huge accident, so we cannot afford to make any mistakes,” an engineer said.

Umematsu stared in silence at the young engineer who had said these words. And standing, for the first time since that day, at the site where he had supervised efforts to restore power, he said: “I really think we gave our very best at that time, and yet we didn’t succeed. Power was not restored. But I don’t think it was all in vain.”

“Oftentimes you must suffer multiple failures in order to attain a single result,” he added. “That’s how you move forward. From the perspective of removing the nuclear debris, I think advances are almost insignificant. And yet, one step at a time, I think progress is being made.”

Even though 11 years have passed since the accident, the removal of fuel debris has yet to start. Nonetheless, Umematsu thinks that “nothing is ever in vain.” And the simple fact that he can say these words is proof that the biggest problems have been overcome.

March 14, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , , | Leave a comment

8 towns and villages near Fukushima nuclear power plant 1,514 earthquake-related deaths 70% relocated 3 times or more

TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Unit 2 in the center, Unit 3 on the left, and Unit 1 on the right, from the head office helicopter on February 9.

March 6, 2022
In eight towns and villages in Futaba County, Fukushima Prefecture, where evacuation orders were issued after the March 2011 accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and nearly all residents evacuated in and out of the prefecture, 1,514 people were certified as earthquake-related deaths, and at least 1,025 were found to have moved to new evacuation sites three or more times, according to a new report. Of the 1,514, 136 died after 2004, indicating that the prolonged evacuation has pushed the victims to the edge.

 The Mainichi Shimbun requested local governments in Fukushima Prefecture to disclose documents submitted by the bereaved families over the certification of earthquake-related deaths. The documents include a written history leading up to the deaths, and we analyzed their contents. The number of people certified as earthquake-related deaths in the prefecture as a whole was 2,331, about 1.5 times the number of direct deaths (1,605).

A survey of 1,514 people certified as earthquake-related deaths in eight towns and villages in Futaba County (six towns: Namie, Futaba, Okuma, Tomioka, Naraha, and Hirono; two villages: Katsurao and Kawauchi) showed that at least 1,025 people had moved their evacuation sites three or more times before their death. Of these, 248 had moved three times, 267 four times, 211 five times, and 299 six or more times.

 A total of 2,034 people, 1,514 in eight towns and villages in Futaba County and 520 in Minamisoma City, which was ordered to evacuate within a 20-kilometer radius of the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, were identified as having died as earthquake-related deaths, and 70% of them were in their 80s or older. Those with a history of illness accounted for 80% of the deaths, with pneumonia and heart disease being the most common causes of death. A number of people suffered from depression or worsening dementia as a result of the long-term evacuation.

According to the Reconstruction Agency, more than 90% of those who were certified as earthquake-related deaths in Iwate and Miyagi prefectures affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake died within one year of the disaster. In contrast, in the eight towns and villages in Futaba County and Minamisoma City, almost half of all deaths from related causes occurred after one year had passed.

 Applications for earthquake-related deaths from bereaved families are still being filed. However, the passage of time has made it difficult to determine the causal relationship between the deaths, and the certification rate is declining. In Tomioka Town, where 454 people, the largest number in Futaba County, were certified, the rate dropped from 94% in FY12 (83 certified out of 88 applications) to 38% from FY19 to FY21 (17 certified out of 45 total). Rokka Teramachi, Shuji Ozaki
Earthquake-related deaths

 Deaths are not directly caused by collapsed buildings or tsunamis resulting from earthquakes, but by worsening physical condition due to evacuation after the disaster. Based on the disaster condolence payment system, a review board consisting of doctors and lawyers receives applications from bereaved families, examines them, and certifies them by the local government. If certified, the bereaved family will receive up to 5 million yen. According to the Reconstruction Agency, as of the end of September 2021, 3,784 people in 10 prefectures had been certified for the Great East Japan Earthquake.

March 11, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Emperor’s evacuation to Kyoto weighed after Fukushima nuclear disaster

January 2, 2021

The government led by the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan unofficially proposed that then Emperor Akihito evacuate to Kyoto or somewhere further in the west from Tokyo immediately after the start of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, a former administration official has said.

However, the Imperial Household Agency flatly dismissed the idea, saying there was “no way” the emperor would do it at a time when people were not evacuating from Tokyo, leading to the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan to give up the proposal.

Then-Emperor Akihito speaks to an evacuee in May 2011 in Fukushima Prefecture, which hosts the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station that was crippled in the earthquake-tsunami catastrophe of the same year.

Several former senior officials at the prime minister’s office separately said the then DPJ administration also briefly considered evacuating Prince Hisahito, the son of Crown Prince Fumihito and Crown Princess Kiko, from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Prince Hisahito became second in line to the throne when his uncle, Emperor Naruhito, ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne in May 2019. The prince was 4 years old when the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered core meltdowns following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

Former Emperor Akihito stepped down from the throne on April 30, 2019, becoming the first Japanese monarch to abdicate in around 200 years, his eldest son succeeding him the following day.

Kan, a House of Representatives member now belonging to the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, admitted he was “thinking in my head” of evacuating the emperor at the time but denied he had conveyed the idea to the then emperor or suggested it to someone else.

However, according to the former Kan administration official, at Kan’s request he unofficially asked Shingo Haketa, then chief of the Imperial Household Agency, via a mediator whether Emperor Akihito would agree to evacuate from the Imperial Palace, possibly to the Kyoto Imperial Palace in the ancient capital in western Japan.

A former agency official said he remembers the agency turned down the proposal.

Asked whether the agency actually conveyed the evacuation proposal to the emperor, he said “maybe, but only after” saying no to the administration.

The Kan administration also treated Prince Hisahito’s evacuation as among items that should be considered in case of a spike in Tokyo’s radiation levels, but eventually decided not to formally consider it, according to the former senior officials at the prime minister’s office.

On March 11, 2011, the six-reactor plant on the Pacific coast was flooded by tsunami waves exceeding 10 meters triggered by the magnitude 9.0 quake, causing the reactor cooling systems to lose their power supply.

The Nos. 1 to 3 reactors subsequently suffered core meltdowns, while hydrogen explosions damaged the buildings housing the Nos. 1, 3 and 4 units. Around 160,000 people were evacuated at one point in the nuclear disaster with a severity level rated on a par with the 1986 Chernobyl accident at maximum 7 on an international scale.

Yutaka Kawashima, who was the agency’s grand chamberlain at the time, wrote in a magazine article shortly after the triple disaster, “It is utterly inconceivable for his majesty to abandon the people of Tokyo and leave Tokyo,” as rumors had circulated about the emperor escaping the capital.

On March 16, 2011, five days after the quake and tsunami, Emperor Akihito said in an unprecedented video message he was hurt by the devastation caused by the disaster and expressed hope the people of Japan would overcome the challenges they faced by caring for each other.

He and his wife then Empress Michiko also voluntarily cut electricity at their residence in Tokyo for two hours daily as they wanted to share the hardship experienced by the people under the power rationing measure taken by electric companies, the agency said at the time.

In parts of Tokyo and its vicinity, rolling blackouts were implemented in the face of substantial power shortages stemming from the crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. Areas in central Tokyo hosting government offices, parliament and the Imperial Palace were excluded from the measure.

January 9, 2021 Posted by | Fukushima 2021 | , , | Leave a comment

Video analysis prompts new theory on Fukushima explosion

Septembre 4, 2020

Experts revise their theory surrounding a hydrogen explosion at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 based on Nippon TV’s reprocessing of footage an affiliate took of the event.

September 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , | Leave a comment

Fukushima 50 film review: drama about nuclear workers’ sacrifice following 2011 earthquake lacks punch

bbA still from Fukushima 50 (category IIA; Japanese) starring Koichi Sato and Ken Watanabe and directed by Setsuro Wakamatsu.


22 Jun, 2020

  • Ken Watanabe as Fukushima nuclear power plant superintendent, and Koichi Sato as shift supervisor, lead the battle to avert a meltdown after earthquake, tsunami
  • Blow-by-blow account of the real-life aftermath of the 2011 disaster in Japan loses much of its drama by refusing to point fingers or demonise decision-makers


2.5/5 stars

The first mainstream film to dramatise the lives of frontline workers who dealt with the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Setsuro Wakamatsu’s Fukushima 50 is an earnest, if somewhat toothless, celebration of those who risked everything to avert a reactor meltdown.

Ken Watanabe and Koichi Sato headline this big-budget adaptation of Ryusho Kadota’s non-fiction book, On the Brink: The Inside Story of Fukushima Daiichi.

The film wastes no time setting up characters or pre-existing relationships, opening with the explosive underwater earthquake off the Tohoku coast of northeast Japan on March 11, 2011. The initial impact triggered an automatic shutdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power station’s nuclear fission reactors. The subsequent tsunami swept over the power plant’s coastal defence walls, flooded the main buildings and knocked out the backup generators responsible for cooling the reactor cores.

Facing an imminent meltdown, plant superintendent Masao Yoshida (Watanabe) and shift supervisor Toshio Isaki (Sato) spearhead a daring, potentially suicidal effort to cool the reactors using seawater, while fending off contradictory, face-saving orders from their superiors at Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) and the Japanese government.

In the nine years since the disaster, the Japanese film industry has broached the disaster’s aftermath numerous times, in films from Sion Sono’s uncharacteristically sombre A Land of Hope, to the allegorical 2016 blockbuster

Shin Godzilla

. The eponymous beast of the latter film has been the stand-in for national life-or-death reckonings since the dawn of the atomic era, but that film also took time to expose, and ultimately champion, the country’s multi-tiered bureaucratic leadership.


jjjlmKoichi Sato in a still from Fukushima 50.


Fukushima 50, and Kadota’s impressively researched book, give blow-by-blow accounts of the disaster and the courageous sacrifices made by those who chose not to evacuate, but stay behind and ensure the nation’s safety. However, arriving in the wake of HBO’s much lauded and dramatically superior miniseries Chernobyl, about the 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukraine, Wakamatsu’s film feels lightweight, and the obstinate heads of Tepco a pushover compared to the Soviet Union’s fearsome Central Committee.

The film functions best as a memorial to Masao Yoshida, the only plant worker to have his real name used, whose willingness to go against his superiors ultimately prevented a far larger disaster, only for him to succumb to an unrelated bout of cancer in 2013. The film’s reluctance to point fingers, or demonise those responsible, saps much of the drama from this true-life tale of selfless heroism.

June 22, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima 2020 | , , , , | Leave a comment

Film on one man’s agony due to 2011 disaster wins key award

Takayuki Ueno continues his search for his eldest son Kotaro and other missing people in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture.
June 13, 2018
A documentary about a farmer’s years-long quest to retrieve the bodies of four family members killed in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster has won an award that honors a slain journalist.
The Mika Yamamoto International Journalist Award was presented to Chiaki Kasai in Tokyo on May 26 for her “Life–Another Story of Fukushima,” which was completed last year.
The prize was established to perpetuate the spirit of video journalist Mika Yamamoto, who died while covering the civil war in Syria in 2012.
Kasai’s 115-minute documentary charts the struggles of 45-year-old Takayuki Ueno as he tries to rise from the depths of despair over the loss of his two children as well as his parents, who were swept away by tsunami generated by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Kasai’s story takes place in Fukushima Prefecture, where the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant went into a triple meltdown when the facility’s cooling system was knocked out in the quake and tsunami. It takes place over a number of years.
Ueno lived in the city of Minami-Soma, which was hard-hit by the tsunami.
Ueno had just begun searching for his loved ones when hydrogen explosions rocked the nuclear plant, just 22 kilometers away.
Despite radioactive substances spewing from the stricken plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., Ueno refused to evacuate. No police or Self-Defense Forces members were coming to rescue him or others stranded in the area.
Ueno found the body of his 8-year-old daughter Erika caked in mud and carried her to a makeshift morgue.
He, along with volunteers, still searches for the body of his son Kotaro, 3, as well as others swept away by the tsunami.
At the time, Kasai, 43, worked for a Hamamatsu-based TV station. She spent the best part of five and a half years documenting Ueno’s life. She completed the project in January 2017, and it was first shown the following May.
Six months after the disaster, Kasai visited Fukushima Prefecture, where she heard about Ueno’s family tragedy and realized that many people were unable to search for missing family members because of the nuclear accident.
“I was disappointed with myself,” Kasai said. “I asked myself what we were doing when we fussed about whether or not we should venture several kilometers nearer to the plant.”
Kasai quit the TV station in 2015 so she could devote herself to the documentary and spend more time visiting devastated areas.
Yamamoto, the journalist who perished in a gun battle while covering the fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo, had made a name for herself covering Afghanistan, Iraq and other war zones around the world. She was 43 when she died.
The award was established in 2013 as a way to encourage news gathering on people living in conflict or impoverished areas to raise awareness of their plight.
The award is given to journalists who cover people living in extreme conditions. Each award-winning work to date was a record of a conflict being waged away from Japan.
“Wars and disasters. There are people who hang in there, no matter what unreasonable things are thrown at them in life.
(Kasai’s) approach to taking time to present her story honestly and in a respectful manner overlapped with Yamamoto’s footsteps,” said Akihiro Nonaka, head of Asia Press International, who served as a member of the award’s selection committee, explaining the decision to choose a work themed on disaster this year.
One scene in the documentary shows Ueno weeping and muttering that he “can’t remember” the sound of his children’s voices.
He later confesses that he is “scared” to see his eldest daughter’s classmates all grown up. Still, encouraged by how his 6-year-old second daughter Sarii, who was born in 2011, is managing, Ueno tries to stay on top of things while continuing to search for his missing loved ones.
A scene toward the end of the film shows Erika’s former classmates dressed in their junior high school uniforms visit Ueno’s home to pray in front of the family’s Buddhist altar. Ueno and his wife Kiho, 41, see the girls off as they leave, soft smiles creasing the couple’s faces. The title of the film clearly resonates with the audience.
Learning that she had won the award, Kasai expressed sadness rather than happiness as Yamamoto is no longer alive, recalling that they once shared a meal together.
“I feel like she gave me a supportive push to keep telling the world what happened in Fukushima,” she said.
Ueno commented that he hoped the documentary would serve as a warning not to allow a similar event to occur again.


June 18, 2018 Posted by | Fukushima 2018 | , , , | Leave a comment

Fukushima Disaster March 11th – March 21st NRC ET Chronology Descending – Pages From C142487-03X

15 may 2012 enformable.jpg

38 pages  Uploaded by Enformable on May 15, 2012

July 27, 2017 Posted by | Fukushima 2017 | , , | Leave a comment