The plant manager of Fukushima Daiichi, Masao Yoshida has broken his silence on what happened at the plant during the beginning of the disaster. Yoshida is currently off work while he battles esophageal cancer and recovers from a brain bleed. He decided to speak now as the main investigations into the disaster have now concluded.
Mr. Yoshida explained his reasons for talking now as “the human element has been lost” from the many investigative reports written about the accident, and that he and his colleagues needed to “find ways to properly convey the experience.” WSJ
Workers at the plant have faced a huge series of problems that alone would have been enough to crush many people. They lived in the area. They too lost homes & family members. Their communities were lost with family and neighbors sent to various places to live. Many have told counselors of incredible stress, some experts helping the workers say many suffer from PTSD symptoms. Yoshida talks of many times during those first days how the workers were sure they would die, yet the refused to leave. Since the disaster these same workers have received considerable backlash and anger. People frustrated with what TEPCO has done to Japan and their lives have taken it out on the on the ground workers.
Mr. Yoshida is the one person who knows much of what went on. His continued speaking on the disaster could help understand the disaster better and the toll it has taken on those who risked their lives to stop it from becoming so much worse.
“I felt we have to find ways to get our message across ourselves. We have to find ways to properly tell our experiences,” he said. Fukushima boss Masao Yoshida breaks silence on disaster _ The Australian
“Mr. Yoshida stressed that his primary concern at the time of the accident was how to stabilize the reactors. In response to claims that Tepco wanted to pull everyone out of the site at one point, Mr. Yoshida said that he’d never considered such a thing, stating that “it was clear from the beginning that we couldn’t run” and that “nobody on the ground said anything about pulling out” of the site.” WSJ
“I could go on forever on the topic, but basically all I was thinking at that time was how to stabilize the plant. In such a situation, leaving the scene of the accident should never happen. However, the life is extremely precious, and people who were not involved, people who were not directly involved in the accident needed to be evacuated. Those people who were engaged in cooling the reactors, I didn’t think they could evacuate. I have never said a word about withdrawal to the TEPCO headquarters, and it didn’t enter my mind at all. I am 100 percent sure that I never said a word about withdrawal, and that’s what I told the accident investigation commission [of the Cabinet Office] so. I was puzzled later [about the issue], but the fuss over “withdrawal” happened between the TEPCO Headquarters and the Prime Minister’s Office, but we at the plant never said a word about that [withdrawal]. I’m quite positive on that.” EX-SKF
He recalled in the interview often passing out cigarettes to workers in a heavily used smoking room beside the bunker during the disaster and once joked: “We don’t have the US army fire trucks we need but at least we have got smokes.” Fukushima boss Masao Yoshida breaks silence on disaster _ The Australian
Even though they hadn’t gotten enough sleep or food and “the level of radioactivity on the ground was terrible,” the workers at the plant pushed their physical limits and “leaped at the chance to go” to the reactors to try to fix the situation WSJ
“Reactors five and six would have also melted downwithout people staying on site. My colleagues went out there again and again. The level of radiation on the ground was terrible, yet they
gave everything that they had.” Fukushima boss Masao Yoshida breaks silence on disaster _ The Australian
“It’s only because of them that we have been able to get things under control to the extent we have now.” Fukushima boss Masao Yoshida breaks silence on disaster _ The Australian
“I don’t know if I was prepared, but in the end, if we were to leave and water injection stopped, more radiation would leak. Then, Reactors 5 and 6, which were somehow stable, would melt, I mean the fuel would melt, once there was no one at the plant. If the plant was left all by itself, more radiation would leak. We managed to stabilize Fukushima II (Daini) Power plant, but we might not be able to be there [if Fukushima I was abandoned and more radiation leaked]. That would be a catastrophe. If you think that way, there is no way we could just run away.
In that situation, in the tremendous amount of radioactivity, my colleagues went to the scenes of the accident a number of times. It was them who did all they could, and all I did was to watch them do it. I didn’t do anything. I really appreciate and thank every single one of my colleagues who went to the scenes of the accident. My job was to stay put in the Anti-Seismic Building, and I couldn’t go to the accident scenes. I gave orders, and when I heard from the workers later, I knew it was a serious [terrible] situation. But [people who worked under me] went there without hesitation. There were many of them, who literally jumped into the scenes of the accident, trying to contain it.” EX-SKF
“At the time we didn’t know they were hydrogen explosions,” he said. “When that first explosion occurred, I really felt we might die.” Fukushima boss Masao Yoshida breaks silence on disaster _ The Australian
Mr Yoshida said he thought at least 10 of his workers had been killed in the first explosion and was stunned to find out that all escaped with their lives, although several workers and army personnel were injured. “I felt awful for those injured, but I felt like Buddha was watching over us.” Fukushima boss Masao Yoshida breaks silence on disaster _ The Australian
“Mr. Yoshida also talked about how he feared he and his crew would all die, when hydrogen explosions were rocking the reactors. Since nobody died, Mr. Yoshida, a Buddhist, said he felt “the Buddha was looking out for us.” WSJ
“In a Buddhism text that I’ve been reading for a long time, there is a mention of divine figures issuing from the ground. That was what I felt was happening in the hellish situation at the plant. Workers would go to the scenes of the accident, then come back upstairs (at the Anti-Seismic Building), they were dead tired, without sleep, with not enough food, reaching the limit of their physical strength. Then they would go out again, and come back, and go out again. There were many workers like them. When I saw these workers, I knew I had to do whatever I could for them. It’s my belief that we have been able to restore the plant to the current level [of relative stability], because of these workers.” EX-SKF
EX-SKF also clarifies Mr. Yoshida’s statement this way: The precise word Mr. Yoshida uses for “divine figure” is “Bodhisattva” – one who vows to save all beings before becoming a buddha.
Mr Yoshida did use the opportunity, though, to call for foreign expertise to be brought in to help stabilize the reactors, something experts claim TEPCO and Japanese authorities have been reluctant to do on a meaningful level. “People won’t come back to Fukushima until the plant isstabilised and we still need to find a way to do that,” he said. “We have to bring people in from around the world. It will require people, technology and wisdom from all corners.” Fukushima boss Masao Yoshida breaks silence on disaster _ The Australian
At one point, Mr Yoshida encouraged colleagues in the room to write their names on the whiteboard as a memorial in case they were all killed. One worker said he felt like he was writing on his own headstone. “I probably wanted to record all the names of those who were there fighting to the end,” Mr Yoshida said.
The transcript is from Mainichi Shinbun article (8/11/2012), not from the video which only 140 or so people who attended the seminar got to watch.
Workers relied on you as their mental [emotional] support.
I didn’t do anything. All I can say is that I have worked at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on 4 different appointments. I know almost all [TEPCO] workers at the plant, and I know many in the affiliate companies. I know their names. “Mr. so-and-so, are you alright?” That was it. I asked them. That’s all I did. I couldn’t do anything. Everyone else did it. That’s how I still feel.
You mean you took time to communicate with them?
Yes. We know each other. We’ve been working together for a long time, we’re colleagues [we've been in this together]. I watched these colleagues of mine go to the horrendous scene of the accident at the plant, come back, and go back out again. All I could do was to bow my head [and thank them].
Did you think you would die when Reactor 3 blew up?
In addition to Reactor 1 ['s explosion], Reactor 3′s explosion made the strongest impact [on me]. In retrospect it was a hydrogen explosion, but at that time we didn’t know what was happening. I thought something catastrophic had happened. About the explosions. I could die, and all people in the Anti-Seismic Building could die, at any moment. It was particularly so after the explosion at Reactor 3. That much debris flying all over. When I first heard that several people were missing, safety of tens of people was not confirmed yet. I thought, maybe more than 10 people just died. Then, more information started to come in, confirming the safety of people, though there were some with minor injuries. And I feel very sorry for the Self Defense Force. The SDF troop came to supply water and they were caught in the explosion and were injured. I am very sorry. One consolation is that injuries were not life-threatening, and I feel as if it was some kind of divine providence.
You instructed your people to write down the names of the members who remained in the plant on the whiteboard. What were you thinking?
I hardly remember how it was, but probably I just wanted to show what kind of people remained and fought till the bitter end. In retrospect. I don’t know myself, really.
You thought it would serve as a grave marker.
Any last thoughts, comments?
This event [Mr. Yoshida uses an industry term for this accident] has been discussed and written up by the investigation commissions by the Diet, Cabinet Office, and the private foundation. We [at TEPCO] have thoroughly discussed with the Cabinet Office investigation commission in particular. There are many inquiries from the mass media, but we have said all to these commissions [TEPCO wasn't interviewed by the private commission] so I think it is enough for the media to go from there. But it is hard to have our true voice heard. Our true voice does not come across through the [reports of the] investigation commissions. For that part, I think we should spread the message in various ways. Not just my experience, but the experience of my colleagues who worked at the plant together, I would like to tell properly.
How should Fukushima I Nuke Plant and Fukushima Prefecture be, from now on?
That’s a high-level question, and I don’t have a ready answer for that. But it comes down to how to make the plant stabilized in a proper way. We cannot have the residents [in the surrounding areas] come back home while this is not accomplished, so it is the largest (task). What’s needed most, as I was also saying during the accident, is to make Fukushima I Nuke Plant more stabilized, using the knowledge and expertise not just in Japan but in the world. We should properly assign responsibility [for the accident] on people, but what’s most important is to make the plant as stable as possible. We need people for that, we need technologies and new ideas. I think it is important to focus [on the stabilization of the plant]. Only then we can decide whether the local residents can return to their normal lives. In any way, the most important task is to calm down, stabilize the situation at the plant. I still don’t have enough strength, but when I come back [from illness] I want to do all I can for the plant that way [i.e. making the plant more stable].
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