Central control room operators at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant showed a wide range of emotions in the early chaotic moments of the disaster. Some expressed disbelief at what was happening. Others believed their utter helplessness would drive them insane.
Some were desperate to flee the plant. Some felt death was inevitable.
The operators' observations and feelings were mentioned in a report released by the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., on Dec. 22. The utility recently interviewed the operators to grasp a clearer picture of what occurred after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant.
"I could not believe it was real," an operator working at the central control room, the nerve center of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, said. Twenty-four people were in the room when the earthquake struck on the afternoon of March 11.
The lights on the control panel for the reactors flashed and then went dark. An ear-splitting alarm that had been ringing since the earthquake struck suddenly stopped, followed by an eerie silence in the room lit by only the emergency light.
"Oh, no! The seawater is coming in," yelled another operator who had returned to the room after inspecting the outside environment.
All data on the reactors disappeared from the screen. One worker described himself as "having lost all senses."
Some workers looked around the mess in the control room and wondered aloud: "Is it worth remaining here?"
They were told to eat some biscuits and drink water to calm down.
But the radiation level soon rose to a point in which entry to the No. 1 reactor building was prohibited.
Two younger workers fled, and even a veteran supervisor at the plant could not hide his anxiety.
"Without information and unable to see the state of the plant, I felt I would go mad unless I could do something," one worker recalled.
Another operator removed his wedding ring, afraid it would become contaminated with radioactivity. But the next moment he put it on again, thinking, "It might help people identify me if the worst-case scenario unfolds." He then headed to the site to help his colleagues.
The following day, on the afternoon of March 12, a hydrogen explosion blew the top off the No. 1 reactor building, creating a roaring sound and shaking in the central control room.
An operator who had been standing outside the turbine building said, "I saw debris scattered all over the sky and fall in bits and pieces."
After the explosion, one operator was preparing for death. He left a message for his father that said, "If something happens to me, please take care of my wife and daughter."
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