In an unusual postscript to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident last year, the manager of the plant at the time — Masao Yoshida — has agreed to the release of a video in which he talks about what he was feeling during the thick of the crisis.
The video was originally produced for a symposium in Fukushima, the prefecture where the crippled plant is located, which has suffered the most contamination from the release of radiation. It was created by a human resources development consultant named Hideaki Yabuhara, who’d been providing volunteer counseling, once a month, for Mr. Yoshida and 250 other workers at the plant since October of last year.
The video, which was shown to a group of foreign journalists Monday, is remarkable in many ways. Counseling is rare in Japan, and admitting to receiving counseling even rarer. It’s also unusual for managers and executives to express personal feelings in public.
Mr. Yabuhara, who presented the video on Monday, said that some in Fukushima regarded counseling as a “frivolous” activity.
But in the video, Mr. Yoshida explained that “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.”
In the 28 minute video letter, 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.
The 57-year-old, who retired from his post last December due to esophageal cancer, repeatedly expressed gratitude towards his co-workers for risking their lives and working under dire conditions. While Mr. Yoshida is often regarded as a hero for containing what could have been a greater disaster, in his video letter he repeatedly said that he himself had done nothing and that his workers were the ones to praise. 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, Mr. Yoshida said in the video.
On the video, 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.”
Mr. Yoshida wasn’t present at Monday’s video presentation.
Mr. Yabuhara said the situation of the Fukushima Daiichi workers was particularly tough because they’re seen as villains — even thought they’re also victims of the disaster. The workers — many of whom lived in the area around the plant — suffered the same hardships as other victims, such as deaths in their families, loss of homes, or separation from families. Yet the widespread media and public condemnation of operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. meant that some workers felt ashamed to wear their Tepco jackets outside, while others covered up the Tepco signs on their trucks, Mr. Yabuhara said. In some cases, marriages were cancelled, he said. The workers also suffered a 30% reduction in salaries, and of course, no bonuses.
Mr. Yabuhara said it would not be at all strange for someone in such circumstances to show signs of depression and consider suicide. He reported that various workers have told him “We have no hope. There is no light in the future.”
The ex-chief of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant praises his subordinates who strove to contain the crisis in a video that will be aired at an upcoming event in the city of Fukushima.
Masao Yoshida, 57, describes the workers as “Buddhist saints in hell” and says he thought he could have died in the crisis and the “workers cooling the reactors at the plant could not leave the site.”
The 30-minute video will be shown with English subtitles at a symposium Aug. 11.
It is the first time Yoshida has detailed in public how he felt during the critical period following the March 11, 2011, start of the catastrophe.
Yoshida was relieved of his post in December to undergo treatment for esophageal cancer.
The video was recorded July 10 in a Tokyo hotel specifically for the symposium, according to the Nagano Prefecture publisher organizing the event.
At the start of the video, Yoshida apologizes to the people of Fukushima for “causing great trouble.”
He goes on to say that right after a hydrogen explosion ripped through one of the reactor buildings, workers “rushed to” the site.
He says he told subordinates to write their names on a whiteboard to let people know who “remained at the site until the last minute to fight” the disaster.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been criticized for allegedly proposing to the government early in the crisis that all workers at the plant be withdrawn due to safety concerns, but Yoshida denies making such a suggestion.
“Basically, I was thinking how to stabilize the power plant. I thought no one engaged in cooling the reactors could leave,” he says. “I never said a word about withdrawal to the head office.”
Yoshida says debris from an explosion in the reactor 3 building three days into the crisis flew into the building housing the control room where he was in command, and that he feared that an even worse catastrophe was in the offing.