Tepco: Staff at nuclear plant felt helpless

Workers tell of fears, difficulties in early days of Fukushima crisis


The desperation and helplessness workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant felt in the immediate aftermath of the March 11 disasters are described in a report detailing Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s in-house investigation.

“I felt I could do nothing. Other operators appeared anxious, and said, ‘When we cannot control (the reactors) and are helpless, is there any point in us staying here?’ ” the chief of the reactors’ central control room is quoted as saying in an interim report Tepco released Friday. “So, I bowed my head and asked them to stay.”

The account is part of a separate volume that was attached to the report, which also describes the difficulties workers experienced trying to release pressure in the containment vessels in the first few days of the crisis to avoid damaging them.

In an apparent attempt to underline the severity of the situation, Tepco printed many of the workers’ accounts in bold face.

While the report carried statements attributed to then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who led the government’s initial efforts to contain the crisis, the statements attributed to Tepco officials lack specific names.

One worker who was part of the efforts to vent the containment vessels said, “I heard some big weird popping sounds . . . and when I tried to start working . . . my black rubber boots melted (because of the heat).”

Others were unwilling to let workers near the containment vessels, fearing they would receive massive doses of radiation.

“I did not allow young workers to go (and open the valves for venting) because they would have to go into an area with high radiation levels,” one of the employees says in the report.

The government has confirmed that reactors 1, 2 and 3 suffered meltdowns, but the report shows that large aftershocks hampered efforts to bring them under control.

“There were quite a lot of times when we had to run to higher ground like crazy with a full face mask on,” one worker is quoted as saying.

Tepco said it interviewed many of the workers at the Fukushima plant who were involved in the effort to contain the crisis in the immediate aftermath of March 11.

When tsunami triggered by the magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Tohoku’s coast hit the nuclear plant, they knocked out almost all its power sources, making it impossible to keep the reactors and spent fuel pools in a cool, stable state.