“Father, Mother, please forgive me for dying before I could fulfill my duty as a son. After the earthquake, I would have wished to hear your voices even once.” “I did not give up on life until the very end.”
As portions of the hundreds of testimonies given to the government investigation into the Fukushima nuclear disaster Asahi Shimbun and Kyodo News have been facilitating their dissemination to the public. Asahi has previously released and translated plant director Masao Yoshida’s interview, while Kyodo has been releasing worker testimony. Workers described the fear, frustration and chaos at the two plants as they tried to regain control.
Some of the workers in the control rooms penned notes to family members, assuming they would die in their efforts to combat the reactors. Two operators at the unit 1 control room took a photo of themselves hoping someone might find the camera if the worst happened. They feared a paper note would burn up.
Workers described forming suicide squads to attempt to vent the reactors. Workers at unit 1 volunteered to form teams to attempt the work, requesting their supervisor stay in the control room to manage the response rather than risking himself. As the workers describe their experiences, it also gives important clues to the state of the reactors at certain times in the events. Hideyoshi Endo was tasked with entering unit 1 and going down into the torus room in the basement of the reactor to open valves that would allow the unit to release built up radioactive steam. Endo mentions what he saw when he entered the building, this was before the explosions.
“After opening the door to the reactor’s building, the reading on Endo’s radiation measurement device jumped to 500 millisieverts per hour. As he lit up the inside of the building with a flashlight, he saw it was filled with what looked like steam or dust.”
“Endo and another member of the team then went downstairs to a room housing a doughnut-shaped suppression chamber at the bottom of the reactor’s containment vessel. They heard a series of large bangs in the dark — a type of noise Endo had never heard before. The radiation meter went back and forth between 900 and 1,000 millisieverts per hour. “I thought we had to move ahead as long as we could see the number on the meter,” Endo said. When Endo was some 30 meters away from the valve, however, he saw the radiation meter reading surpass 1,000 millisieverts. He stared at the meter for a few seconds, but it had gone up all the way and did not come back down. If the radiation level was 1,000 millisieverts per hour, Endo would have exceeded the 100-millisievert radiation dose limit a nuclear power plant worker is allowed to be exposed to in five years in just six minutes. But Endo no longer had a way of knowing how high the radiation level was.”
This was on March 12th, less than 24 hours after the earthquake. The meltdown at unit 1 was already well under way as the workers attempted, then had to abandon their effort to vent unit 1. During this same time many people responding to the disaster like GSDF soldiers were not aware they should be wearing respirator masks as they arrived at the plant.
As workers tried to keep some form of cooling working on unit 3 they discovered that the steam relief valves that allow steam to be released into the torus refused to function. They had lost both the ability to depressurize the reactor vessel and what little cooling they had. In an effort to relieve pressure so water could be injected unit 3 also sent workers down to the torus room to attempt to vent the reactor. This was roughly 24 hours before the time TEPCO now admits that unit 3′s reactor vessel failed, sending melted fuel into the containment vessel. Worker Satoro Hiyashizaki attempted to enter the torus room of unit 3, His task was to confirm if an air actuated venting valve had opened. As he tried to step into the torus room he discovered his rubber boot had instantly melted to the grate.
“It was like being in a sauna. The palm of my hands, covered by rubber gloves, instantly got hot,” After walking up a few stairs and into a narrow passageway, Hayashizaki felt groggy. The valve he had to check was just nearby but to know how much it had opened, he had to step over the rail and walk 5 meters directly above the chamber. The heat was apparently coming from the chamber. He had a bad feeling. Cautiously, he put his right foot down onto the chamber. The rubber sole of his shoe instantly melted, leaving a black smear. “The moment I put my foot down, I felt my shoe slip. The distance is normally nothing to worry about but I was scared of what could happen to me if I tripped at a place where the temperature was that high,” “There was no way to release the heat. I didn’t know what would happen thereafter,” he recalled. He gave up checking on the valve and returned to the control room.“
After Hiyashizaki returned to the control room, unable to complete the task he realized his dosimeter was continuing to climb. Everyone in the control room saw their dosimeters climb. They knew for sure unit 3 was in a meltdown and thought they would die.
The response not just at Daiichi but at Daini was also plagued with frustration and outside help that was less than helpful. The head of Daini, Naohiro Matsuda requested that TEPCO headquarters in Tokyo arrange to have 4000 tons of water sent to Daini to inject into the reactors. Instead they sent him a 4000 liter water truck, assuming he wanted drinking water for the plant.
Managers on site at Daiichi desperately to get water into the reactors found themselves also battling their own fire truck contractors. The plant had contracted with Nanmei Kousan Co to provide required on site fire fighting services to the plant. This is part of routine safety requirements from before the disaster. The fire contractors were refusing to go near the reactors to operate the fire equipment, TEPCO workers had no idea how to operate the fire trucks.
A TEPCO official in Tokyo who had been coordinating information with the Prime Minister’s office demanded Daiichi’s plant manager, Masao Yoshida cease the injection of sea water into the reactors, the only form of cooling left. Why would he make such a bizarre request? The Tokyo official didn’t want to have to tell the Prime Minister that sea water injection had already started after he had previously told him that it had not been begun yet. Yoshida ended up having to lie to everyone in Tokyo so he could continue trying to inject water while they argued among themselves.
One worker at the plant found himself to be incredibly lucky. Mitsuhiro Matsumoto, a TEPCO employee at the plant found himself outside during both explosions. His work was to reconnect destroyed electrical cables and systems to try to regain some power to the reactors. When unit 1 exploded he was getting out of a car near the emergency response building and was showered in building debris. When unit 3 exploded he was leaving the unit 2 building to return to his car. After the dust cleared he found the drivers seat smashed by a concrete block.
There are additional stories to be published by Kyodo, the list so far is below with a few missing from online publication. They are worth reading the entire series of articles as they give much detail of what really happened at the plant during the height of the disaster.
STORY1: Workers grappled with darkness at start of Fukushima nuclear crisis (About 115 lines, due out Aug. 14)
STORY2: Workers race against time to contain Fukushima crisis
STORY3: Workers try to save Fukushima No. 1 reactor through venting mission
STORY4: Explosion rocks Fukushima No. 1 reactor despite preventive efforts (About 120 lines, due out Aug. 18)
STORY5: Fukushima Daini plant scrambles to evade same fate as Daiichi
STORY6: Seawater injection fuels tensions in work to contain Fukushima crisis
STORY7: Workers witnessed meltdown signs at Fukushima No. 3 reactor
STORY8: Blast at Fukushima No. 3 reactor building drives people into corner
– STORY9: Fukushima plant chief Yoshida feels “it’s all over” amid crisis (About 125 lines, due out Aug. 25)
– STORY10: Kan slams TEPCO over request to “withdraw” from crippled plant (About 130 lines, due out Aug. 25)
– STORY11: Fukushima plant chief Yoshida orders evacuation amid radiation fears (About 125 lines, due out Aug. 28)
– STORY12: Workers leave Fukushima plant with tears, reunion promises (About 115 lines, due out Aug. 28)
– STORY13: 71 workers stay at Fukushima plant, eat canned meat as “last meal” (About 115 lines, due out Aug. 28)