25 Mars 2013
March 25, 2013
Editor's note: This is the 10th 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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At dawn on March 15, 2011, Maj. Gen. Yuki Imaura, vice commanding general of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Central Readiness Force, was in the dining room on the first floor of the off-site center for the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant when he twice heard a loud boom and then felt the room shaking.
As it turned out, the explosions occurred in the No. 4 reactor at the crippled plant.
At 6:40 a.m., top officials at the headquarters gathered in the room of Motohisa Ikeda, senior vice minister of economy, trade and industry, who was leading the crisis response task force.
Imaura proposed compiling a list of conditions that should trigger a withdrawal of the headquarters staff from the off-site center, which was being used as the operational base for the government’s nuclear emergency response headquarters.
Ten minutes later, Akio Komori, managing director of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator, presented to the top officials a piece of paper on which three sentences had been scribbled down.
1. Pressure levels within the No. 2 reactor’s pressure vessel and containment vessel exceed the design limits.
2. Radiation levels in areas surrounding the off-site center rise above 500 microsieverts per hour.
3. An explosion, a fire or other emergency situation takes place at the No. 2 reactor.
It was decided that the entire headquarters staff would be evacuated from the off-site center to the Fukushima prefectural government’s building if all the three conditions were to occur.
At 8:35 a.m., someone shouted that the three conditions were all met.
“We are withdrawing now and going to the prefectural office,” Ikeda shouted in the large room.
TEPCO employees and officials from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency working at the off-site center moved quickly. Who should get on which vehicle had been determined in advance.
Imaura saw Ikeda, sitting in the backseat of a van, salute him.
The vehicles left the facility around 9 a.m., if Imaura remembers correctly.
Imaura remained at the center.
In the dining room, he found half-eaten canned provisions and chopsticks abandoned in the middle of breakfast. He put them in a garbage bag and walked around the center, turning off lights.
As his last act, Imaura placed a cardboard box outside the center building. Inside the box were four days worth of portable emergency provisions for five SDF officials, including Imaura.
He decided to leave the food for dogs and cats that had been left behind. He himself kept a dog, a miniature dachshund. It was painful for him to see many now homeless dogs and cats strolling around deserted towns and villages within 10 kilometers of the disabled nuclear power plant.
Imaura opened one pack of sukiyaki so that animals could recognize the provisions as food.
At 10 a.m., Imaura and four other SDF members left the off-site center in a converted Mitsubishi Pajero SUV.
As they were traveling through the town of Futaba, where part of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is located, a man in his 70s came out of a private residence and called to them. The man said he and his wife had failed to escape with other residents of the town. Both of the old couple were carrying one large piece of baggage each.
Imaura put some equipment in the vehicle down onto the road and let the two elderly residents get into his vehicle and transported them to an evacuation center.
Imaura and his team arrived at the Fukushima prefectural office at 4 p.m., just 24 hours after he had pulled up to the off-site center.