“WE’RE NOT RUNNING AWAY”: FUKUSHIMA WORKER
Workers wearing protective clothing and respirators head towards the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Photo: Reuters
This story by Hannah Koh was published March 17, 2011 by the Straits Times of Singapore.
One lone voice has emerged from the group of heroic workers at Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), which runs the quake-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, where workers are scrambling to cool the nuclear plant and avoid a meltdown.
Michiko Otsuki – a female worker at Tepco – has written on her blog, speaking up for her ‘silent’ colleagues who remained behind at the plant.
She had been quoted a little in some overseas English reports but The Straits Times Online tracked and translated her blog to find out her full story when she first posted on popular Japanese social networking site Mixi.
By Thursday however, her post had been taken down, but the entry had already been reproduced by several online blogs and in Japanese language forums.
Ms Otsuki is one of the 800 employees evacuated from the plant on Monday, leaving 50 workers behind to battle the nuclear crisis.
On Tuesday, she addressed the growing criticisms levelled at Tepco.
‘People have been flaming Tepco,’ she said. ‘But the staff of Tepco have refused to flee, and continue to work even at the peril of their own lives. Please stop attacking us.’
Tepco, which powers Japan’s capital and largest city Tokyo, is one of the main players in the world of Japanese nuclear power, with a history of safety violations.
Even Prime Minister Naoto Kan, frustrated that an explosion featured in the news had not been reported to the Prime Minister’s office, is reported to have burst into an executive meeting at the company and demanded what was going on.
Tireless, Faceless Crew
However, Ms Otsuki’s blog post gives the world a glimpse of the tireless, faceless crew – now dubbed the Fukushima 50 – who are working on the frontline to stop the nuclear crisis from escalating, risking the effects of radiation. In the most severe cases, radiation can lead to higher chances of developing cancer, or even death.
‘As a worker at Tepco and a member of the Fukushima No. 2 reactor team, I was dealing with the crisis at the scene until yesterday (Monday).’
‘In the midst of the tsunami alarm (last Friday), at 3am in the night when we couldn’t even see where we going, we carried on working to restore the reactors from where we were, right by the sea, with the realisation that this could be certain death,’ she said.
‘The machine that cools the reactor is just by the ocean, and it was wrecked by the tsunami. Everyone worked desperately to try and restore it. Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work.
‘There are many who haven’t gotten in touch with their family members, but are facing the present situation and working hard.’
‘Please remember that. I want this message to reach even just one more person. Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away.
‘To all the residents (around the plant) who have been alarmed and worried, I am truly, deeply sorry.
‘I am writing my name down, knowing I will be abused and hurt because of this. There are people working to protect all of you, even in exchange for their own lives.
‘Watching my co-workers putting their lives on the line without a second thought in this situation, I’m proud to be a member of Tepco, and a member of the team behind Fukushima No. 2 reactor.
‘I hope to return to the plant and work on the restoration of the reactor.’
But her pleas seem to have gone unheard. The original post has now been taken down and she has instead posted an apology: ‘I am very sorry, but I have locked the post as it was being used in a way I had not intended it to be.
‘Having seen what’s happening on the ground, my message to all of you remains the same. But others have changed the contents of the post and used it for the wrong reasons, like fanning fear amongst others, and I have therefore decided to lock my post.
‘I am praying from the bottom of my heart for the safety of your loved ones. I am sorry it (the blog post) has turned out this way.’