A very touching piece. Pray and hope that Japan will pull through this difficult time.
Mar 19, 2011
Messages from workers on a suicide mission
FOR three desperate days, Ms Michiko Otsuki and her colleagues put their lives on the line to control the disaster at Japan's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
As the technicians and specialists fought to restore cooling systems and prevent a full meltdown of the reactors, hindered by airtight suits and plagued by exhaustion, they faced one inescapable fact: It was a suicide mission.
Bombarded by radiation leaking from the crippled reactors, many knew that they might not survive the ordeal, nor escape the host of radiation-caused diseases likely to hit them in the future.
But they persevered nonetheless, aware that they were the nation's only hope of preventing a catastrophic nuclear disaster.
'If we act now,' one man told his family, 'we can change the future of the nuclear power plant. I will go there with this mission.'
Such poignant messages sent home by the crew dubbed the Fukushima 50 reveal both a sense of doom as well as the courage keeping the workers there.
One said he was accepting his fate 'like a death sentence'. Another, having absorbed a near-lethal dose of radiation, told his wife: 'Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.'
Yet, when Ms Otsuki was finally evacuated on Monday, she was surprised to discover that her countrymen did not seem too grateful for such acts of heroism, and decided to speak out this week.
In a blog translated by The Straits Times, she described the harrowing hours that followed last week's quake and tsunami.
'In the midst of the tsunami alarm at 3am in the night when we couldn't even see where we were 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 wrote.
'The machine that cools the reactor is just by the ocean, and it was wrecked by the tsunami. Everyone worked desperately to try to restore it. Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work.
'There are many who haven't got in touch with their family members, but are facing the present situation and working hard.'
While Ms Otsuki has been evacuated - as have most of the plant's 1,800 employees - a small number of workers continue to soldier on at the plant, in a desperate bid to prevent a full-scale disaster.
Known as the Fukushima 50 for their 50-person shifts, the nameless, faceless group is believed to number 180 to 200, and has become a national symbol of bravery and self-sacrifice.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan personally acknowledged their crucial presence, telling them: 'You are the only ones who can resolve the crisis. Retreat is unthinkable.'
Experts have said that radiation levels at the plant are high enough to kill the Fukushima 50 soon, or cause them appalling illnesses in the years to come. The full-body jumpsuits with hoods that they wear are not enough to stop the contamination.
Believed to be made up mostly of front-line technicians and firemen who know the plant the best, they have been fighting fires and trying to restore cooling systems to prevent spent fuel rods and the reactors from heating up, exploding and spewing deadly radiation into the air.
Heartbreaking messages to their families, reported on Japanese media, show that they are under little illusion about the risks they face,
'My father is still working at the plant,' said one worker's daughter. 'He says he's accepted his fate, much like a death sentence.'
Another woman said her father, a 59-year-old veteran power plant worker, volunteered to stay on despite being due to retire in September.
'At home, he doesn't seem like someone who could handle big jobs,' she wrote on microblogging site Twitter. 'But today, I was really proud of him.'
Another woman said of her husband: 'I didn't want him to go. But he's been working in the nuclear industry since he was 18 and he's confident it's safe.'
Making it even harder for the families is the knowledge that the workers are labouring in severe conditions.
Working in shifts and taking turns to sleep and eat in small decontaminated areas, they are reportedly running out food, according to one worker's daughter.
Already, five workers have reportedly died, two are missing, and at least 21 have been injured. Twenty are said to have been exposed to excessive radiation.
In her blog, Ms Otsuki refuted accusations that the nuclear plant's workers had shirked their responsibilities.
'Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away,' she wrote. 'To all the residents who have been alarmed and worried, I am truly deeply sorry...there are people working to protect all of you, even in exchange for their own lives.'
Another woman whose father worked at the plant wrote on Twitter: 'People at the plant are struggling, sacrificing themselves to protect you.
'Please, Dad, come back alive.'
'Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away. To all the residents who have been alarmed and worried, I am truly deeply sorry...
There are people working to protect all of you, even in exchange for their own lives.'
Ms Michiko Otsuki
'Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.'
One of the Fukushima 50 to his wife
'My father is still working at the plant. He says he's accepted his fate, much like a death sentence.'
Daughter of one of the nuclear plant workers