OKUMA, FUKUSHIMA PREF. – Tokyo Electric Power Co. allowed media representatives into the central control room for reactors 1 and 2 at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power station on Wednesday for the first time since the nuclear crisis started in March 2011.
Inside the room, traces could still be seen of the struggles of plant workers during the critical initial phase of the crisis, when the plant was rocked by hydrogen explosions and core meltdowns.
The facility lost power after being hit by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami of March 11, 2011. Of the plant’s six reactors, three had core meltdowns, including units 1 and 2.
From an ocean-side entrance, the members of the media entered the building that houses the control room, located between the turbine buildings of the two reactors. They then passed down a narrow corridor with hoses and cables on the floor and temporary lighting hung overhead, before being led into the control room on the second floor.
Entering the room, reporters could see the control panel for reactor 1 on the right and the panel for reactor 2 on the left. Pink sheets covered the floor, which is still contaminated with radioactive materials.
When the quake shook the plant, 24 operators were on duty in the room, according to Tepco. When the power was lost, the lights on the control panels also went out.
Desperate for power, staff cobbled together their car batteries. Operators connected batteries to the control panels to restore the meters that showed the water levels inside the reactors.
Alongside water meters on the control panels, handwritten figures showing water levels and the times the data were recorded could be seen. Operators wrote these down while using flashlights due to the blackout, Tepco said.
In the meantime, the meltdowns were progressing. Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on March 12, air radiation levels rose to 1,000 microsieverts per hour. Soon after 3:30 p.m., a hydrogen explosion ripped through the reactor 1 building.
At present, operators do not enter the control room on a regular basis. Meters, gauges and other key equipment inside are remotely monitored from the power station’s quake-proof building, which is the main base of operations for keeping the reactors cool and reducing the levels of radioactive materials in the polluted coolant water.
During the visit by members of the media, air radiation levels inside the central control room were 4 to 9 microsieverts per hour.