“The Workers We Spoke to Thought They Were Going to Die”


February 28, 2012

Dan Edge, the writer, producer and director of tonight’s film Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown, spoke at length with NPR Fresh Air’s Dave Davies today about last March’s unprecedented disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Davies describes the film as “a gripping account of a series of potentially catastrophic developments in how the government, plant workers and citizens responded.”

Edge describes in detail the days after the earthquake and tsunami — from rumors about evacuating Tokyo to a dangerous mission to vent one of the reactors — and offers insight into what the workers were thinking during those uncertain hours.

One particularly tense moment was the explosion of reactor 1, just a few days into the crisis. “Of all the workers we’ve spoken to, this was the worst moment for just about all of them,” says Edge. “They didn’t know what happened.” While the world watched the footage, pictured above, the workers felt it while they were locked down in an earthquake-proof building nearby.

When plant manager Masao Yoshida verbalized their worst fears — “Did reactor 1 just explode?” — the workers feared the lethal levels of radiation that would be released into the air. “The workers that we spoke to thought they were going to die. They really did think they were finished.” Luckily — but perhaps only in this context — the explosion was due to hydrogen in the roof of the of the reactor’s protective covering, not the core itself.

Edge also discusses his experience reporting from the 12-mile exclusion zone around the reactor — he’s been there about seven times, more than most reporters covering the topic — and the lingering questions Japan and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, are facing about how to decontaminate the region and regain the trust of the public.

Listen to the full audio of the Fresh Air segment below, and check your local listings for tonight’s broadcast, which will also be available to watch online.

In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

As Biden Announces End of U.S. ‘Combat Mission’ in Iraq, 21 FRONTLINE Docs Provide Context
President Biden said July 26 the U.S. combat mission in Iraq is drawing to a close. These documentaries illuminate the Iraq War and its aftermath.
July 28, 2021
THE PEGASUS PROJECT Live Blog: Major Stories from Partners
A curated and regularly updated list of news articles from our partners in “The Pegasus Project,” a collaborative investigation among 17 journalism outlets around the world.
July 28, 2021
‘A disturbing shooting’: Salt Lake County district attorney says officer was justified in killing handcuffed man
An exasperated district attorney tried to get two points across at a Thursday news conference. The first is that as the law is currently written, Longman’s shooting was justified. The second is that Gill thinks the law should be changed. 
July 22, 2021
What Is the Fatemiyoun Brigade and Why Does It Make the Taliban Nervous?
Amid the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Taliban leaders claim Iran is mobilizing its proxy militia the Fatemiyoun for civil war within Afghanistan.
July 20, 2021