PROMETHEUS TRAP/ 'Shadow units' (7): Reactor explosion heavily damaged SUV driven by SDF personnel

March 18, 2013

By HIDEFUMI NOGAMI/ Staff Writer

Editor's note: This is the seventh part of a new series that has run in the past under the title of The Prometheus Trap. This series deals with the secret missions assigned to the “shadow units” of the Ground Self-Defense Force when the Fukushima nuclear disaster was unfolding following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. The series will appear on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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The six personnel of the Ground Self-Defense Force's Central NBC Weapon Defense Unit were exposed to radiation as a result of the hydrogen explosion at the No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 14, 2011.

They showered at the Fukushima prefectural environmental medical research institute in an attempt to wash away the radiation. Specialists from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences checked radiation levels in the room next to the showers.

"The radiation level still has not fallen," one specialist said.

The SDF member returned to the shower room for another round of washing and scrubbing.

"It's still high. One more time."

The soldier took another shower.

"Still not enough. There is still a lot of radiation around your face."

The unit commander, Col. Shinji Iwakuma, ended up showering eight times.

Because he had no clothes to wear, he put on new protective gear while wearing nothing underneath.

He looked around at the other personnel in his unit. While there was a soldier who was injured, they were all talking, so a relieved Iwakuma said, "I am glad to see that everyone is all right."

Iwakuma described the reactor explosion to Lt. Col. Kazunori Hishinuma, another unit member.

Iwakuma explained that to supply water to the No. 3 reactor to prevent a meltdown of its reactor core, he and another member headed for the Fukushima No. 1 plant in a retrofitted Pajero SUV, manufactured by Mitsubishi Motors Corp. The four other personnel followed in two five-ton water tankers.

At around 11 a.m., the group stopped next to the water supply pump near the No. 3 reactor. As they were about to open the door, the explosion occurred.

In addition to the blast, the force from the explosion blew the Pajero to the side. Chunks of concrete came raining down, cracking the vehicle windows and smashing through the canvas roof. Some of the larger chunks were 30 centimeters long. Gray smoke swirled in the area.

Iwakuma kicked the door out to escape the vehicle. The dosimeter was blaring away, a warning that accumulated radiation levels exceeded 20 millisieverts.

They tried using their radio to contact the off-site center, but could not get through.

"We will become exposed to radiation if we remain here for long," Iwakuma told the other personnel. "We are leaving the area."

Abandoning their vehicles, they walked back along the road they had traveled. There were a dozen or so plant workers also walking unsteadily away.

They spotted an abandoned truck with the keys still in the ignition. They loaded the plant workers onto the truck and received permission to have an SDF member drive it away.

They left the truck at the main gate because they felt they should not take the vehicle off the plant grounds. They hitched a ride in another truck that happened to pass by and finally reached the off-site center.

After Iwakuma concluded his explanation to Hishinuma, he said sternly, "Tokyo Electric Power Co. officials explained that the situation was not so dangerous that an explosion would occur. I wonder if TEPCO officials knew about the danger of an explosion. It would be a major problem if they had us go to the plant knowing about that danger."

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The previous installments of this series are available at:

(1) http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201303040001

(2) http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201303060001

(3) http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201303080009

(4) http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201303110012

(5) http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201303130007

(6) http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201303150009

By HIDEFUMI NOGAMI/ Staff Writer
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The Mitsubishi Motors Corp. SUV Pajero driven by Self-Defense Forces personnel was heavily damaged by an explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 14, 2011. (Provided by the Ground Self-Defense Force)

The Mitsubishi Motors Corp. SUV Pajero driven by Self-Defense Forces personnel was heavily damaged by an explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 14, 2011. (Provided by the Ground Self-Defense Force)

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  • The Mitsubishi Motors Corp. SUV Pajero driven by Self-Defense Forces personnel was heavily damaged by an explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on March 14, 2011. (Provided by the Ground Self-Defense Force)

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