Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The 50 at Fukushima Daiichi

Some days ago I read that TEPCO was withdrawing all its personnel from its stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, all except for 50 who were to remain to fight the overheating reactors. The word ‘heroes’ immediately came into my mind along with memories of those heroic doomed Russian helicopter pilots who dumped load after load of concrete on radioactive Chernobyl. 
A few days ago the word ‘heroes’ was not being used in the media because it looked like the danger was small and that the problem would be contained. Not anymore.

[7:06 a.m. ET Wednesday, 8:06 p.m.  in Tokyo] The number of nuclear workers at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was slashed Tuesday from 800 to 50, but had grown to 180 by Wednesday afternoon, the Tokyo Electric Power Company said.
"Their situation is not great," said David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University. "It's pretty clear that they will be getting very high doses of radiation. There's certainly the potential for lethal doses of radiation. They know it, and I think you have to call these people heroes." (from ‘This just in’ WSJ Blog)

Strangely, as I was writing this, an article at the WSJ site about the 180 heroes suddenly disappeared. I suppose it was pulled because it painted too heroic and desperate a picture of events out of control, or at least not going to plan. In it there were quotes from nuclear experts about the specialized knowledge of these 50 who, precisely because of their knowledge, knew exactly what risks they were taking and therefore were true heroes. They were doing what they considered to be their job and more importantly their duty to protect their endangered nation. I remember one commentator saying they were in ‘uncharted territory’ and likened events to an adventure movie where the workers were ‘ad libing’ as they went along. For example, using fire trucks to pump seawater into the reactors to cool them ‘was not in the manual’.

There is no lack of examples of courage and duty in Japanese history. Indeed such heroic courage and devotion to duty are a large part of the samurai code that is deeply ingrained even today in the Japanese psyche. Akira Kurosawa gave us the quintessential legend of the 7 samurai; history gives us the 47 Ronin. Today’s events give us those who will become known forever as the 50 at Fukushima Daiichi.

The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.  Japanese Proverb

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond