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New Fukushima book features stark eyewitness accounts

March 3, 2014

Los Angeles, CA - March 11, 2014 will mark three years since Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant failed in the wake of a tsunami and earthquake – a failure that arguably could have been prevented with better planning and management. A new book by a commission of top experts drawn from the Japanese private sector dissects the disaster and includes chilling eyewitness accounts from Fukushima workers who were at the site at the very moment “the asphalt began to ripple” and cracks appeared on turbine buildings.

Detailing the disaster’s first moments and actions taken in the immediate aftermath, the prologue from “The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Disaster: Investigating the Myth and the Reality,” by the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, appears in the current edition of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BOS), published by SAGE. Specifically, the prologue draws on the account of one anonymous subcontractor of the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owned the plant.

Once the initial quake subsided, more than 200 workers on the ocean side of the Fukushima plant rushed to the gates, terrified that the quake would quickly be followed by a tsunami. The subcontractor’s account explains that a security guard held them at the gate, awaiting instructions, before finally letting workers through. The contractor was among workers who went to the power station’s earthquake-proof crisis centre. Here occupants not only watched the tsunami engulfing the coastline further north on the NHK News channel, but also witnessed firsthand a section chief delivering the news that one of the station’s large water tanks had just washed out to sea.

The account details some of the actions of TEPCO’s General Manager, Masao Yoshida, who famously disobeyed instructions from TEPCO headquarters to stop using seawater to cool the reactors. Though he was later reprimanded, his disregard for corporate instructions may be the reason that the reactor cores did not explode. Although many workers shouting the latest information and asking for instructions surrounded Yoshida, the contractor describes the atmosphere among the 700 people who had taken refuge in the earthquake-proof building as “surprisingly orderly”.

When workers detected steam — probably caused by a rupture in the nuclear reactor’s main steam pipe — along with some very high radiation readings, TEPCO employees and people from affiliated companies began to assemble into response brigades.

“They organized themselves into five teams of about 20 people each, and members of the radiation-control group were outfitting them with protective suits.

“I’ll never forget the expressions on the faces of the employees assembled into those response teams. Their faces, in the face of lethal danger, were white as sheets…nobody knew what could happen. Needless to say, there was a chance they could die.”

As the sun rose – along with radiation levels – TEPCO prepared a bus to evacuate all non-essential personnel, including the contractor. Ultimately, only around 50 people remained on-site at the Fukushima plant. His final thought, on seeing members of Japan’s Self Defense Force arriving to help, was that these newcomers were not wearing masks:

As the bus drove away, I could not help but think, “I wonder if those guys are going to be all right.”


The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Disaster: Investigating the Myth and the Reality,” by the Independent Investigation Commission on the Fukushima Nuclear Accident is a forthcoming book published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

The article will be freely accessible for a period of time here.


The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists informs the public about threats to the survival and development of humanity from nuclear weapons, climate change, and emerging technologies in the life sciences. Scientists, engineers, and other experts who had created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project established the Bulletin in 1945.

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