The Prometheus Trap / Men in Protective Clothing-2: Radiation information did not make it to residents

November 16, 2011

By MOTOYUKI MAEDA / Staff Writer

On March 13, after the 25 people had left the Kanno's home, the majority of evacuees still remained in the Tsushima district.

At 5:44 a.m. on March 12, the evacuation order was expanded to cover a radius of 10 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. After the hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 nuclear reactor, the evacuation order was widened to 20 km at 6:25 p.m.

However, at a news conference on the evening of March 12, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said, "There will be no leakage of radioactive material in a large quantity. Persons in areas outside of the 20-km radius will not be affected."

The statement effectively meant that the incident was insignificant but that people in the area are urged to take shelter as a precautionary measure. People believed that the Tsushima district, 30 km away, was safe.

On March 12 and 13, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employees visited the Tsushima branch office in Namie to make a status report. They were not wearing protective clothing, and they did not say the area was dangerous. Their demeanor was quite different from that of the men Mizue Kanno had met.

Neither the workers in the town hall nor the head of the district had seen the men in protective clothing that Kanno had seen. However, she had carefully made note of what she had seen and heard.

Early on the morning on March 15, following the blast heard at the No. 3 reactor the previous day, a loud boom was heard at the No. 2 reactor, and then the No. 4 reactor building exploded. For the first time, the government requested that people within a 20- to 30-km radius "take refuge indoors."

That is when the residents of the Tsushima district evacuated. Mayor Tamotsu Baba found out about the explosion at the No. 3 reactor on March 14 from TV reports and decided to implement voluntary evacuations to the neighboring city, Nihonmatsu, from the next day.

On the morning of March 15 at 9 a.m., very high levels of radiation of 11,930 microsieverts per hour were observed at the main gate to the Fukushima No. 1 plant. Despite this, Edano's statements were optimistic.

"The concentration of radioactive material at distances exceeding 20 km is considerably weakened. The impact on the human body is small or negligible."

"At present, water is steadily being pumped into reactors Nos. 1, 2 and 3, which is having a cooling effect."

It was not until later that the people of Japan were told about the meltdown that had occurred at the nuclear reactors on March 12.

On the morning of March 12, police officers in charge of traffic control at Namie were wearing protective clothing.

"Why are the police dressed like that?"

The residents were apprehensive. The chairman of the Namie town assembly, Kazuhiro Yoshida, 65, went to the Tsushima district police substation and asked that the police refrain from wearing the protective clothing because it was making residents nervous.

Yoshida says, "We were the only ones who weren't informed."

'Isn't this murder?'

There is a computer simulation system named SPEEDI that the government spent 13 billion yen ($166 million) to create. When factors such as radiation quantity, geography, weather and wind direction are entered, the system immediately determines information that includes the direction in which leaked radioactive materials will flow.

On March 12, two hours before the hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 reactor, the Nuclear Safety Technology Center (NUSTEC), which is supervised by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, had already run that simulation.

Radioactive materials were shown to disperse in the direction of the Tsushima district. However, the government did not inform the residents.

Fukushima Prefecture, however, was aware of the SPEEDI results. On the night of March 12, the prefecture had called NUSTEC in Tokyo asking for information and received the results by e-mail. However, that information was not used and at some point the e-mail message was erased, and even the record of receiving the message remains uncertain.

The residents who fled the Tsushima district on March 15 were told about the SPEEDI results by the prefecture two months later, on May 20. The issue arose because the facts of the matter were coming under question in the prefectural assembly.

On May 20, the department chief from Fukushima Prefecture in charge of the matter visited the Towa branch office in Nihonmatsu, where the functions of Namie town hall had been moved, to offer an explanation.

"Isn't this murder?"

Mayor Baba voiced his strong disapproval.

According to Baba, the prefectural department chief shed tears as he apologized for not communicating the SPEEDI results.

The results acquired from SPEEDI were not the only information that was not made known.

Fukushima Prefecture began measuring radiation levels at various locations from early in the morning on March 12, the day after the Fukushima nuclear accident.

At 9 a.m. on the same day, measurements in the Sakai district in Namie registered 15 microsieverts/h, and 14 microsieverts/h in the Takase district. Compared with other towns, those two areas in Namie showed extremely high readings. It was more than six hours before the hydrogen explosion at the No. 1 reactor, and there were many evacuees nearby.

These readings were uploaded to the website of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on June 3. However, the figures were buried among the multitude of other data on the website and their importance was overlooked.

In late August, when that data was shown to Kazuo Ueda, the head of the disaster relief headquarters in Namie, he was astounded.

"This is the first time I've seen this. Why didn't the national and the prefectural governments tell us?"

Kanno said, "Perhaps we were forsaken by the national government?"

(The third part will appear on Nov. 21.)

By MOTOYUKI MAEDA / Staff Writer
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The dining table used by evacuees at Mizue Kanno's home (Motoyuki Maeda)

The dining table used by evacuees at Mizue Kanno's home (Motoyuki Maeda)

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  • The dining table used by evacuees at Mizue Kanno's home (Motoyuki Maeda)
  • A notice reads, "Wash the dishes before using them next time." (Jun Kaneko)
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