The Fukushima No. 1 power plant crisis had the potential to become the world’s worst nuclear plant disaster if the reactors had exploded. It would have contaminated all of eastern Japan. But thanks to heroic plant workers, that catastrophic disaster was averted. And now their stories are being told for the first time in award-winning Ryusho Kadota’s new book.
Entitled Shi no Fuchi wo Mita Otoko: Yoshida Masao to Fukushima Daiichi Genpatsu no 500 Nichi (“A Man Who was on the Brink of Death: Masao Yoshida and the Fukushima No. 1 Plant’s 500 Days”), it’s the first in-depth look at those men and women, dubbed the “Fukushima 50“. The book features interviews with more than 90 people who were involved in the containment efforts, including their family members. It also features rare interviews with Yoshida, the plant’s heroic operations chief, who mostly avoided media efforts to get him interviewed.
A lot has been said about Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) and the government’s mistakes in this disaster. But the stories of how these plant workers were able to prevent the explosion of any of the primary containment vessels, which would have been ten times worse than the Chernobyl disaster in the former Soviet Union. Yoshida said that every one of the workers that remained at the plant put their lives on the line trying to avert the disaster, exposing themselves to the rising radiation caused by the melting cores.
Ikuo Izawa, the leader in the control room, begged the staff to remain, even when there was no more electricity and they were left in the dark, literally. “If we withdraw from here, it would mean we are abandoning all of the areas around the power plant,” Izawa was quoted as saying. The book also tells the stories of the two engineers who were killed as they were caught by the tsunami while they were checking the status of reactor 4.