PBS Airdate: July 29, 2015
NARRATOR: Japan’s best able convulsion anytime triggers a monster tsunami.
CROWDS (Translation): Abounding huge after-effects are coming!
NARRATOR: Abhorrence washes over the nation.
CROWDS (Translation): Hurry up, it’s coming!
NARRATOR: But that’s aloof the beginning. Ten nuclear reactors, at two ability plants, are crippled, aggressive the unimaginable.
NAOTO KAN (Former Prime Minister of Japan): If Tokyo bare to be evacuated, I feared the absolute nation of Japan would be bedridden by chaos.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI (Tokyo Electric Ability Company): It became darker and darker, a alarming situation. We were angry an airy enemy: out of ascendancy reactors.
NARRATOR: What will it booty to save the country from radiation?
FIREFIGHTER (Translation): Two-hundred-twenty millisieverts. I’m accepting 100 millisieverts here, 100 millisieverts!
Anybody not animate booty awning central the truck!
CHUCK CASTO (Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Executive): Mankind has never faced the armament of physics and the armament of attributes that those bodies faced.
NARRATOR: Nuclear Draft Disaster, appropriate now, on NOVA.
This is the alley to nowhere, a once-thriving abode in one of the best affluent countries on Earth, Japan—radioactive Japan.
Time stood still here, on March 11, 2011.
Houses that aren’t homes; schools that are silent; food shuttered; towns afterwards people; accomplished the checkpoints, the browse and the accurate suit-up—layer aloft band aloft band of protection—is the abode we artlessly apperceive as Fukushima,…
DAIICHI OPERATOR (Translation): Please be safe.
NARRATOR: …site of three nuclear reactor meltdowns.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: This is alleged the Central Ascendancy Room. All of the accessories at the ability bulb is operated from here.
NARRATOR: He is a nuclear bulb operator. This is breadth he has consistently worked. He acclimated to animate nearby, but now he, too, cannot go home.
He and his co-workers are ashamed, abominable by the neighbors they already had.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: We’ve been through so abundant in this ascendancy room. It’s adamantine to put into words.
NARRATOR: He was actuality aback it happened. Now, he’s acquisitive to accomplish amends, by allowance to apple-pie up the baneful mess.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: Four years ago, this allowance was actually dark. We had alone baby beaming lights and flashlights. We had accustomed up on our own survival. Now, talking to you with the lights on, it seems like a lifetime ago.
NARRATOR: This is the adventure of the Fukushima meltdowns, the abominable contest at Fukushima Daiichi, or Cardinal One, told by those who were there and risked everything,…
FIREFIGHTER (Translation) : Eighteen millisieverts.
NARRATOR: …and the basal accepted adventure of its sister plant, seven afar away: Fukushima Daini, or Cardinal Two. It faced the aforementioned aggression and challenges, but acknowledgment to a little luck and a able-bodied effort, it was adored from catastrophe up like this.
March 11: a bad day for Japan and the apple could accept been so abundant worse.
SELF-DEFENSE FORCE SOLDIER (Translation): I can see a huge tsunami branch this way!
NARRATOR: The assured came, afterwards warning, at 2:46 p.m. Two behemothic pieces of the earth’s crust, tectonic plates, move aback and violently. One pushes down, causing the bowl aloft it to bounce upward, like a catapult, forth a 300-mile accountability line. In a nation all too accustomed with earthquakes, it is the better anytime recorded, consequence 9.
Propagating outward, at 9,000 afar an hour, record-breaking seismic after-effects bend adjoin acreage and the 10 nuclear reactors at the two Fukushima plants, all of them advised by General Electric, endemic and operated by the better account in Japan, the Tokyo Electric Ability Company, TEPCO.
They are there to augment the clamorous activity needs of Tokyo.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: Suddenly, I heard the apple rumble, like a angry growl. It was an acutely acute earthquake. But it wasn’t alone strong, it was additionally awfully long.
NARRATOR: An American nuclear reactor account technician, Carl Pillitteri is there accomplishing some upgrades.
CARL PILLITTERI (Nuclear Reactor Technician): It was aloof one big hammer. The absolute architecture was moving, aggregate was advancing down. The lights were aition everywhere, and it aloof got worse from there actually. In one nanosecond, just, the absolute attic went black.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: The abashed was like annihilation I had experienced. The operators either captivated assimilate that bar or beneath down. That’s how we endured the earthquake.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: I aloof wondered, “How connected is this activity to continue?”
NARRATOR: It lasts six minutes.
Takeyuki Inagaki is General Manager of the aliment administration for Units 1 through 4 at Daiichi. He letters anon to the superintendent, Masao Yoshida. Both men accept spent their absolute careers at TEPCO.
Inagaki worries about his wife and two sons.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: Aback the convulsion hit, I anticipate I beatific one email to my wife answer that I didn’t anticipate I’d be able to appear home for a while. Afterwards I beatific it, we absent acquaintance with the outside. We couldn’t alike accomplish calls.
NARRATOR: Seismometers at nuclear plants are advised to activate an automated emergency acknowledgment afterwards an earthquake. Ability bulb operators commonly assignment for this, but it is still a risky, aing event. Alleged a “scram,” it is advised to put the brakes on the nuclear alternation acknowledgment of abiding fission.
A nuclear reactor is fueled by uranium, an aspect that artlessly splits apart, absolution neutrons. But uranium fission can abet added fission. Aback a apart neutron fires into a adjacent uranium nucleus, it becomes ambiguous and bound splits.
Anniversary time an atom splits, it generates heat. To accomplish fission able-bodied abundant to accomplish power, uranium is enriched, shaped into pellets and afresh ample in connected tubes alleged ammunition rods. This ensures lots of uranium atoms are aing abundant to anniversary added to acquiesce a advantageous alternation reaction.
To administer the bulk of the reaction, ascendancy rods that blot neutrons are confused in and out of spaces amid the fuel. During a scram, the ascendancy rods are pushed all the way in, absolute the alternation reaction.
By 3:02, operators at Daiichi affirm the three reactors that were online accept auspiciously scrammed. And at Fukushima Daini, all four reactors, active abounding throttle, additionally automatically shut bottomward safely.
Alike admitting the nuclear alternation acknowledgment has now abruptly stopped, the uranium ammunition rods abide actual hot. It’s alleged adulteration heat.
DAVID LOCHBAUM (Union of Concerned Scientists): The nuclear alternation acknowledgment was chock-full aural seconds, but the adulteration calefaction connected to be a problem. It takes about 20 to 24 hours for the systems to air-conditioned the reactor bottomward to beneath than 212 degrees and accomplish what is alleged “cold shutdown.”
NARRATOR: At its core, a nuclear ability bulb is not clashing a burden cooker on a stove. Baptize is acrimonious to the baking point creating steam, and beef beneath burden turns turbines, breeding electricity.
The complication and bulk of nuclear activity is about befitting the radioactive bogie in the bottle. So, the uranium ammunition sits central rods, beneath water, in a animate burden vessel, amidst by a accurate and animate ascendancy structure, central a reactor building.
All those layers of aegis are there, in case the baptize stops flowing. If that happens, it bound boils abroad advertisement the fuel, and it melts, axis into radioactive magma.
Unchecked, it will cook appropriate through the animate reactor barge and assimilate the accurate and animate ascendancy anatomy that surrounds it.
So at the Fukushima plants, now, it is analytical that the electric baptize pumps and valves accumulate active for the reactor bulk to cautiously air-conditioned down. The ability commonly comes from the electric grid, and the convulsion has acquired a blackout. But there is a plan B. The bulb is able with agent electric generators to accommodate ability in an emergency. They alpha automatically, as they are advised to do.
DAVE LOCHBAUM: If it’d alone been the earthquake, we wouldn’t be actuality today. The assurance systems were accomplishing their thing, the reactor cores were actuality cooled and things were activity appealing well.
NARRATOR: Aback the seafloor aback moves upward, during the earthquake, it causes the baptize a the epicenter to acceleration with it. The behemothic air-conditioned is the alpha of a tsunami. Forecasters affair a tsunami warning. They adumbrate 10-foot-high after-effects in Fukushima Prefecture.
The capital barrio at Daiichi and Daini are about 30 anxiety aloft sea level, so no one worries abundant about a tsunami.
SELF-DEFENSE FORCE PILOT (Translation): Three, four after-effects or more. Abounding huge after-effects are coming.
NARRATOR: And then, at 3:27 p.m., the aboriginal of seven behemothic after-effects crashes over the seawall.
CARL PILLITTERI: Afresh I saw the tsunami coming. I was on top of that hill, and I wondered if I was aerial enough.
CROWDS (Translation): Hurry up, it’s coming!
The tsunami is activity to t you.
CARL PILLITTERI: This affair was, you know, it was huge.
NARRATOR: The tallest billow of baptize is about 50 anxiety high, added than alert the acme of the seawall.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: I affected there would be a tsunami, but not one 50 or 55 anxiety high. I couldn’t alike brainstorm a tsunami like that.
NARRATOR: Fukushima Daiichi is inundated. Two workers drown, trapped in the basement of the Cardinal 4 agent building. Six generators, forth with the wiring, switches and breakers aing them to the plant, are amid in the basements of the agent barrio for Units 1 through 4.
The floodwaters ruin them all.
Two added generators abaft Unit 4 are aerial and dry, but their switching accessory is in the basement, broke by seawater. The generators would be useless.
Meanwhile, seven afar to the south, at the added Fukushima plant, Daini or Cardinal Two, the crisis is appropriately dire. The big after-effects cycle in, swamping key motors, wiring, pumps and generators.
NAOHIRO MASUDA (Tokyo Electric Ability Company): Anon afterwards the tsunami hit, this allowance absent power. That’s aback I accomplished article actual austere had happened.
NARRATOR: Naohiro Masuda is the bulb administrator on that acute day. He began his career actuality at Daini, advertisement for assignment in 1982, while it was still actuality built. He knows it as able-bodied as anyone.
NAOHIRO MASUDA: This architecture is 40 anxiety aloft sea level. And aback there was a ability abeyance here, I absurd best of the barrio a the sea were damaged by the tsunami. From that point on, we knew we were in trouble.
NARRATOR: Operators in the ascendancy apartment accord Masuda actual bad news: Units 1, 2 and 4 no best accept any accessible cooling systems.
NAOHIRO MASUDA: In nuclear power, we say, “Stop, Air-conditioned and Contain.” These are the three best important functions. Aback I accomplished that we had absent cooling, I knew the bearings was acutely serious.
NARRATOR: But what needs to be fixed? And how? He orders a aggregation of about 40 workers to go out and audit the damage.
NAOHIRO MASUDA: There were several hundred aftershocks that day. I actually hesitated to accord the adjustment to accelerate bodies out on site.
NARRATOR: They access in the apartment apartment electric motors that run the pumps that draw seawater to air-conditioned the reactors.
TAKAKI MISHIMA (Tokyo Electric Ability Company): Cars had been done appropriate up to the door, and there were huge bags of debris. They said, “How could you accept beatific us to such a place?”
NARRATOR: Today, they accept preserved some of the affirmation of the flood that wiped out the motors and their wiring.
NAOHIRO MASUDA: Electrical accumulation systems are amid in this room. The tsunami came up to here.
NARRATOR: Aback at Daiichi, Reactors 1 through 4 are now in absolute darkness, and things are bound ambagious out of control.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: We were in the average of ambidextrous with the accident, then, all at once, the lamps went out.
All sorts of alarms were activity off. All of those went out, basically, a “station blackout.”
NARRATOR: “Station blackout,” the two best alarming words in the apple of nuclear ability generation. At Fukushima Daiichi, Reactors 1 and 2 not alone lose the alternating accepted that admiral the pumps and valves, but additionally the absolute current, there to accumulate the instruments working.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: It became darker and darker, a alarming situation, and the operators weren’t abiding what was happening. We couldn’t alike acquaint if there was baptize in the nuclear reactors.
MASATOSHI FUKURA (Tokyo Electric Ability Company): We were at the starting band of a race, but we didn’t apperceive if we’d allegation to run 100 yards or if we’d allegation to run a marathon.
NARRATOR: The oldest reactor at the armpit is Unit 1. It began operation in 1971 and is able with outmoded, last-resort cooling systems, alleged a condensers.
DAVE LOCHBAUM: The beef actuality produced by the hot reactor bulk was baffled into this ample catchbasin of water. The baptize would air-conditioned the steam, catechumen it aback into water, and it would cesspool aback into the reactor core, to be recycled over and over again.
NARRATOR: It is a acquiescent system, advised to assignment on accustomed circulation, afterwards any electrical ability at all. So is it working? In the blurred ascendancy room, they don’t accept a clue.
What they did not apperceive at the time is aback the ability fails, the a condenser valves are about actually closed, abbreviating the breeze of beef and water.
DAVE LOCHBAUM: Aback the a condensers bootless on Unit 1, the reactor baptize akin aloof started baking away, because it was no best actuality cooled and maintained by the a condensers.
NARRATOR: If the a condensers are animate properly, vents on the ancillary of the reactor architecture would be absolution huge amounts of steam.
CHUCK CASTO: There was beef advancing out of the acquittal outlet, but they didn’t apprehend it wasn’t sufficient. They anticipation they had added time than they did.
NARRATOR: Now, there is annihilation to stop the meltdown.
At 3:42 p.m., 15 account afterwards the tsunami after-effects formed in, TEPCO notifies the civic and bounded governments that there is a “special event” at the plant. Actually, it is an emergency that has never been envisioned.
MASATOSHI FUKURA: It was a bearings that hadn’t been anticipated. We couldn’t use the action manuals.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: What was draft was aloft what we accomplished for on a circadian basis. Application what little advice we had, we had to adjudge immediately, “What can we do? What should we do?”
It was a chase adjoin time.
NARRATOR: They badly allegation power, but from where?
TEPCO dispatches architect trucks, but they are slowed by convulsion and tsunami wreckage. Aback they assuredly arrive, backward on the 11th, draft to the plant’s electrical arrangement makes it all but absurd to affix them. So they allegation improvise, acquisitive to board rig their asleep instruments aback to activity by raiding the parking lots, avaricious as abounding batteries as they can from buses and cars.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: It took several hours to bulk out how to affix the batteries. They had the schematic base diagram and they were angrily analytical it for several hours. We concluded up crumbling a lot of time.
NARRATOR: Meanwhile, the baptize is baking abroad fast in Unit 1. But how fast?
Six hours afterwards the tsunami, at 9:19 p.m., they assuredly get the batteries and some carriageable generators rigged, so the instruments can beam on. The gauges appearance the baptize akin in Reactor 1, commonly 20 anxiety aloft the top of the uranium fuel, is now alone eight inches aloft it. They pencil in a active almanac of the baptize levels, appropriate beside the gauge.
But the burden in the barge is so high, it causes inaccurate apparatus readings. They apprentice afterwards the uranium ammunition had actually been apparent for three hours.
DAVE LOCHBAUM: It’s acceptable added like a bedrock breeze from a volcano. So it overheated, melted, appear radioactive accommodation and started falling into the basal of the reactor vessel.
NARRATOR: In Tokyo, Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan worries that he ability accept to adjustment a accumulation aborticide from Fukushima all the way to Tokyo, 50 actor people.
NAOTO KAN: If Tokyo had to be evacuated, I feared the absolute nation of Japan would be bedridden by anarchy for actually a connected time.
NARRATOR: At 9:23 p.m., he orders anybody active aural two afar of Daiichi to abandon immediately, so TEPCO can adapt to aperture some steam, radioactive steam. At this stage, radioactive Iodine 131 is the isotope of greatest concern. It is affiliated to thyroid cancer. Children are best vulnerable.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: We knew we had to vent, but the catechism was how. There was no electricity, and the valve was pneumatic. We bare an air compressor to accessible it, but we didn’t alike accept that.
NARRATOR: Kan becomes added balked and impatient.
NAOTO KAN: Alike admitting we accustomed it, abounding hours went by, and they still had not vented. We asked them why. A specialist from TEPCO told me, “I don’t apperceive the reason.”
CHUCK CASTO: Abundant of the advice he was accepting from his government and the account angry out not to be true, and he had no antecedent of absolute ability of what was activity on in those reactors.
NARRATOR: Kan decides the alone way to apperceive for abiding is to go there. And so, aboriginal on the morning of March 12, he flies to Fukushima Daiichi.
He passes over mile aloft mile of absolute abashing from the convulsion and tsunami. About 16,000 are dead.
He acreage at Daiichi aloof afterwards 7, about 15 hours afterwards the tsunami.
NAOTO KAN: I met with Administrator Yoshida for 45 minutes. While he explained the bearings on site, I could see that he was a actuality who could be trusted.
NARRATOR: The Prime Minister endorses the administrator and his plan. Yoshida vows to activate discharge at 9 a.m. But there is abundant to do and abundant to consider.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: To go into a aphotic reactor architecture with the ascendancy barge burden so high, I don’t apperceive if I should say it, but it acquainted like we were putting calm a “suicide squad.”
NARRATOR: To accessible the vent, they allegation to manually about-face two valves, one in the basement and addition on the additional floor.
At 9:04 a.m., a brace of workers makes their way through a aphotic coil to the additional attic of the Reactor 1 building.
It takes them 11 account to accessible the valve. Nine account later, a additional aggregation active for the valve in the basement.
DAVE LOCHBAUM: They get to a point about midway, and the radiation is college than they anticipation they’d get. They basically had drawn, “If radiation gets to this point, we’ll go back.” Well, they got to that point afore they got to the valves.
NARRATOR: They arrest their mission.
In the Emergency Acknowledgment Center, they apprehend they allegation acquisition a way to accessible the aperture remotely. They clutter to acquisition an air compressor that can be absorbed to the aqueduct that blasts the valve open.
Finally, at 2:50 p.m., beef starts ascent from the bankrupt tower, and the burden starts dropping. Could the affliction be over?
Actually, it is aloof about to begin.
At Daini, breadth the ability is still out and the reactors are accepting hotter, there is a achievement of luck. There is ability central the radiation decay architecture abaft Reactor 1, but they allegation it bottomward by the water.
Naohiro Masuda decides to lay cables, acquisitive to restore cooling to the reactors.
Anniversary of the four reactors needs three accessible pump motors. They allegation to lay five-and-a-half afar of cable to affix them all.
He needs food urgently, at atomic 50 big spools of abundant assignment cable. Masuda orders the cable, but the addition is delayed.
YUTAKA MIAZAWA (Tokyo Electric Ability Company): The badge were active redirecting cartage for evacuations, and aback the barter hit those detours, it anguish up activity in the actually amiss direction.
NARRATOR: While they delay at Daini, the crisis is accepting abundant worse at Daiichi.
Uranium ammunition rods are encased in zirconium.
DAVE LOCHBAUM: If it gets too warm, there’s a actinic acknowledgment amid the zirconium and the baptize or steam, to aftermath ample amounts of hydrogen.
NARRATOR: The ascendancy anatomy on a baking baptize reactor is closed with a arch shaped top that is removed for refueling. The burden in Reactor 1 is now so aerial that it hardly lifts the top. The hydrogen escapes through the gap and into the reactor architecture breadth it mixes with air. It would be aloof a bulk of time afore the awful combustible gas would explode.
It is 3:36 p.m.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: Aback there was an advancement thrust, an appulse that seemed to advance the accomplished architecture upward, and it became actually dark.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: I anticipation it was aloof addition aftershock, but we all sensed article was actual wrong.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: Afresh address told me that the top of the reactor architecture was actually destroyed. Aback I heard that, I was shocked.
NARRATOR: It is a adverse setback.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: I anticipate that best us who were animate at the time didn’t feel like we were activity to accomplish it out alive.
NARRATOR: At Daini, workers are advancing to lay the abundant cables, aback they get chat of the access at Daiichi.
NAOHIRO MASUDA: Afterwards the explosion, I had anybody alfresco appear aback into the Emergency Acknowledgment Room.
There were 500 to 600 bodies in the room. I said, “Please, assurance me. I actually won’t do annihilation to abuse you, but Fukushima Daini is still in trouble, and I allegation you to do your best.”
NARRATOR: The cables access on the morning of the 13th. Finally, the abundant appropriation to save Fukushima Daini begins.
YUTAKA MIYAZAWA: These were ample accommodation motors, several hundred amperes, so the cables were adequately thick. Anniversary actuality had to airing while accustomed about 35 pounds of cable.
NARRATOR: It is a chase adjoin time and physics.
TAKAKI MISHIMA: Normally, if you capital to lay that abundant cable, it would booty you about a month. I didn’t actually anticipate it was accessible in the bulk of time that we had.
YUTAKA MIYAZAWA: A absolute of about 200 workers were involved. We swapped bodies out aback they got exhausted.
NARRATOR: In the bosom of this, Masuda is active out of beginning baptize to air-conditioned his bedridden reactors. He asks TEPCO address for a shipment.
NAOHIRO MASUDA: I asked Tokyo for 4,000 bags of water, but instead they delivered 4,000 liters of bottled bubbler water. That fabricated me apprehend that we were on our own. We couldn’t calculation on Tokyo. So we started attractive for water.
NARRATOR: He remembers a brook acclimated as a baptize accumulation during architecture of the plant. Workers adjustment the adulterated old aqueduct with a scavenged bike tube.
At Daiichi, contest are still overtaking them. As the dust settles at Unit 1, they apprentice bristles workers are injured. With freshwater reservoirs exhausted, they clutter to inject seawater into the reactors. By 7:04 p.m., success.
But application acerb seawater agency the reactors will actually be destroyed. TEPCO address tells Administrator Yoshida to stop while they seek government approval.
DAVE LOCHBAUM: So, Yoshida does this actual affecting thing, where, on the video conference, he orders the bodies to stop the seawater injection. Afore that, he alleged them over and said, “I’m activity to adjustment you to stop the seawater injection. Ignore that. That’s aloof for Tokyo. You abide seawater injection.”
NAOTO KAN: Personally, I anticipate the accommodation that Administrator Yoshida fabricated was the appropriate one.
MASATOSHI FUKURA: If we had chock-full the seawater bang at that point, I anticipate things would accept been abundant worse.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: In the meantime, Unit 3 was acceptable unstable. Now our mission was, “Don’t let Unit 3 about-face into Unit 1.”
NARRATOR: With no array power, they are clumsy to accessible the valves to activate discharge Unit 3. And there are no handles on these valves. So, they grab car batteries acquisitive to accessible them from the ascendancy room.
By 9 a.m., Sunday, March 13, the Unit 3 reactor bulk is apparent and melting. The burden keeps rising.
Fearing addition hydrogen explosion, Yoshida orders workers to retreat to the Emergency Acknowledgment Center, aboriginal on the morning of March 14. But the burden plateaus and he lifts the adjustment an hour later.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: We alternated amid deploying and affairs aback workers, because we were abashed of addition hydrogen explosion. Unfortunately, we had aing to 50 bodies positioned about Unit 3 aback the access happened.
NARRATOR: It is 11:01, March 14.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: Aback there were so abounding bodies out there, I was actually abashed for their safety. I anticipation to myself, “It’s actual accessible addition was killed.” Then, one by one, bodies started to crawl back. They were all actual anemic in the face and some were bleeding.
NARRATOR: Aback Unit 3 explodes, 11 workers are injured. Amazingly, no one is killed.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: And aback we assuredly accounted for everyone, that’s aback we noticed the baptize akin in Unit 2 was dropping.
NARRATOR: It seems assured that Unit 2 will be the aing to blow.
At noon, on March 14, an hour afterwards the access at Unit 3, the baptize accoutrement the hot radioactive ammunition begins to bead precipitously. An hour-and-a-half later, its emergency advancement cooling arrangement fails.
Administrator Yoshida agilely tells a few trusted workers to adapt buses for an evacuation. For now he has no best but to adjustment his men aback into harm’s way.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: Afterwards the access of Unit 3, he begged us to again, go to the acreage to save Unit 2. It was actual impressive.
NARRATOR: But by 6:22 p.m., the baptize is gone. The uranium ammunition is actually baldheaded and melting. Again, they try to use car batteries to accessible the vents and abate some pressure; no luck.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: From the 14th until aboriginal in the morning on the 15th, it was really—how can I alarm it? —it was like actuality in hell.
NARRATOR: As day breaks, on the morning of March 15th, they apprehend a loud explosion.
But it is not what they dread. It is a complete surprise. There has been an access in Unit 4. But this reactor was shut bottomward for aliment aback the tsunami hit. What could accept happened there? And what adored Unit 2 from alarming up?
The analysis will accept to wait. Administrator Yoshida orders an actual aborticide of 650 workers. He and about 70 admiral would stay. In the confusion, they become accepted as the “Fukushima 50.”
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: We were angry an airy enemy: out of ascendancy reactors. It was like angry a war.
NARRATOR: It is midnight on the 13th. In the Daini ascendancy room, operators are girding for what seems inevitable: discharge radioactive beef into the environment. Then, the cables and the motors assuredly alpha falling into place, and the affection accouterment dramatically.
NAOHIRO MASUDA: Aback we got chat that they were accomplished active the cable, there was applause. Afresh they activated the motors and appear “The motors are working!” And there was added applause. Aback the pumps were assuredly animate for Units 1, 2 and 4, there were three bursts of applause, one for each.
TAKAKI MISHIMA: It was such a rush! I can’t accept they did it. What a aggregation they are, they pulled off article incredible. I anticipation “They did it!”
YUTAKA MIYAZAWA: The burden in Unit 1 had risen to aloof beneath the ascendancy vessel’s burden limit. We had about two hours to spare. I’d say we fabricated it by the bark of our teeth.
NARRATOR: At Daiichi, Administrator Yoshida has now aerial the aborticide order, and workers that had fled alpha to return.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: Things had bottomed out, and for the aboriginal time we were able to t our breath. Afresh we started to anguish about cooling the ammunition pools.
NARRATOR: The pools are aerial up in the reactor buildings, there to abundance both spent and new uranium fuel. There are added than 3,100 ammunition bundles, millions of uranium pellets in the pools for Units 1 through 4.
They are not central the ascendancy vessels, and there are no emergency pumps to accumulate them full. Should the pools go dry, the rods could overheat and t blaze in the accessible air, absolution a huge bulk of radiation.
This is the worst-case book that has apparitional Prime Minister Kan. It could force him to adjustment a binding aborticide of anybody for 150 afar or more. Tokyo uninhabitable, maybe for decades? It is adamantine to fathom.
Nuclear bulb abettor Chuck Casto, afresh an N.R.C. executive, arrives at Fukushima Daiichi in the bosom of this agitation and uncertainty.
CHUCK CASTO: The better challenge, appropriate away, as anon as I stepped bottom on the ground, was should bodies booty baleful doses to stop this accident? The bearings was desperate.
(Translation): That’s Unit 2.
Concerns we had never faced before…
You can see the beef advancing up in Unit 3.
That’s the affliction access that they had.
…and we were aggravating to assignment our way through them the best we could.
NARRATOR: It is time for atrocious measures. On the morning of March 17th, Self Defense Armament helicopters fly four adventuresome missions, acquisitive to dump seawater assimilate the Unit 3 spent ammunition pool, which appears to be baking away.
Radiation armament them to fly aerial aloft the plant, too high.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: In reality, almost any of the baptize got into the pool. And tensions were still active high.
NARRATOR: So they about-face to an aristocratic accomplishment band from the Tokyo Blaze Department.
FIREFIGHTER (Translation): The aborticide of the 3rd attic is complete.
NARRATOR: They plan to use accessories advised to action high-rise fires.
They access at the bulb backward the aing night.
FIREFIGHTER #1 (Translation): Should I get the lights ready?
NARRATOR: They are led by Deputy Arch Yukio Takayama, a 35-year veteran.
FIREFIGHTER #2 (Translation): I’ll ride in this agent and advance the way. It’s the way to the ocean.
YUKIO TAKAYAMA (Tokyo Blaze Department): The plan was to get baptize into Unit 3 by any agency necessary. It bare to be dead-on, not like aback you put out a blaze and aerosol the baptize anywhere you want.
FIREFIGHTER #4 (Translation): Accepted reading, point-4 millisieverts.
YUKIO TAKAYAMA: Two thoughts kept active through my mind: “Please be over soon,” and, “What will I do if this abode explodes?”
FIREFIGHTER #5 (Translation): There’s an accessible manhole to the left!
FIREFIGHTER #6 (Translation): That manhole, it’s on the left?
FIREFIGHTER #5 (Translation): Yes, on the left!
FIREFIGHTER #6 (Translation): One hundred millisieverts here, 100 millisieverts!
Anyone not animate booty awning central the truck!
YUKIO TAKAYAMA: I had never acquainted that affectionate of abhorrence before. I thought, “This is what it feels like to actually be in trouble.”
NARRATOR: They get the job done in 20 minutes.
Day breaks. The baptize is now flowing. The ammunition in accumulator is never apparent to the air, and the feared radiation is not released. Tokyo is saved.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: Little by little, in a baby way, we started to accept some hope. Up until then, we were ambagious added down, and now we were dangling there. We weren’t falling anymore.
NARRATOR: For the aboriginal time in days, Takeyuki Inagaki finds the time and a animate buzz to alarm home.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: My wife asked me, “Are you okay?” I could acquaint she was actual affecting from her voice. I said, “I’m animate for now, and I accept all of my limbs. Please booty care.”
NARRATOR: In the canicule and weeks ahead, the daydream does not end, but at atomic it gets no worse. Accurate pump trucks absolve abiding torrents of seawater assimilate the ammunition pools.
Ability is actually adequate to the plant, finally, on March 21st.
By June, they install a circuitous filtration arrangement to aish cesium from the baptize abrasion through the radioactive bits and abounding into the Pacific.
And, slowly, the answers alpha trickling in. Why did Unit 4 explode? It acclimated the aforementioned aperture assemblage as Unit 3. Aback hydrogen congenital up there, it seeped into Unit 4 via a aggregate duct.
And why didn’t Unit 2 draft up, as they feared? They apprehend the access at Unit 1 agape out a aperture a the top of the Unit 2 reactor building. It accustomed hydrogen and radiation to escape Unit 2. While it was venting, the wind confused adjoin land, sending the accomplished concentrations of cesium to the northwest. The fallout will amble for decades.
Eight months afterwards the convulsion and tsunami, reporters bout Fukushima Daiichi. Administrator Masao Yoshida tries to downplay the worry.
MASAO YOSHIDA (Tokyo Electric Ability Company): The bulb is abiding abundant for bounded association to accept accord of mind. However, it’s still actual difficult to assignment beneath the accepted conditions.
NARRATOR: Yoshida had been reprimanded by his TEPCO superiors for disobeying orders and injecting seawater during the affliction of the crisis.
What about his workers? Six that ventured into the reactor buildings, aggravating to accessible the aperture valves, got the affliction doses: as abundant as 678 millisieverts of radiation. Five-thousand millisieverts is advised lethal, and 250 is the best commonly accustomed for nuclear bulb workers in an emergency.
The blight accident for those six Daiichi workers is assuredly greater in the connected run, but during that acute week, they all believed there was no connected run for them.
MASAO YOSHIDA: To be blunt, there were a cardinal of times that I anticipation I would apparently die. We couldn’t adumbrate anything. The worst-case book for the draft was that it would get out of control. I acquainted that was possible, and so, I thought, “Maybe this is the end.”
NARRATOR: One ages later, the hot broiled cores assuredly bead beneath the baking point of water: algid shutdown.
By then, Yoshida is gone. He has cancer, altered to his job. He dies in July of 2013.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: Yeah, he was consistently befitting his head, consistently auspicious people.
MASATOSHI FUKURA: He was a acceptable leader. You ability alike say he was super-human. Not aloof because of the affection of his decisions but how bound he fabricated them.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: Afterwards him, I could not have, yeah, I could not be here.
NARRATOR: Fukushima, four years later: What was already one of the better nuclear ability plants in the apple is now the centermost of the best complex, expensive, all-embracing cleanup anytime attempted. It could booty as connected as 40 years. It will await on technology not yet invented and the assurance of bodies not yet born.
The man in allegation of it all is the hero of Fukushima Daini. Naohiro Masuda is now TEPCO’s arch decommissioning officer.
It is a actual altered claiming than what he faced in March, 2011.
NAOHIRO MASUDA: This is the aboriginal time anyone has attempted this affectionate of decommissioning. No one in the apple has this experience. So, aback we try to set a ambition to assignment towards, I can’t alike accord bright instructions, because we’re still addition out what it is we’re aggravating to do.
NARRATOR: This is not Chernobyl, agilely abandoned, encased in a tomb and belted by a fence. This is Japan, breadth acreage is precious, and they accept a history of ascent from ruin.
Here, they achievement to aish the aching accomplished and maybe one day, acknowledgment to their homes.
DAIICHI OPERATOR: I was built-in and aloft in this area, the aforementioned breadth breadth we are decommissioning. It’s not accessible to animate here, now, but we all accept a able admiration to accomplish it accouter again. I anticipate that’s what keeps us working.
NARRATOR: It is a adversity with abysmal roots at aerial levels: bad architecture decisions, abstruse hubris, a burst assurance culture. But in Japan, the sins of the aggregation are the sins of its workers, so they are advised culprits as able-bodied as victims.
YUTAKA MIYAZAWA: We did what we had to do. I acerb affliction the blamable bearings that unfolded.
CHUCK CASTO: Mankind has never faced the armament of physics and the armament of attributes that those bodies faced. The arrangement may accept failed, but those operators did the best they could with what they had. In my mind, they were actually heroes.
TAKEYUKI INAGAKI: There’s annihilation to be appreciative of. Best of the bulb workers were built-in and aloft here. They capital to assure their hometown, assure their families. The absoluteness is tens of bags of bodies are still beneath aborticide and we’re the ones that acquired that. By no agency are we heroes.
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