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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Asahi - Shadow Units (11)

March 27, 2013



PROMETHEUS TRAP/ 'Shadow units' (11): You’re specialists, shoot water into the reactor





Editor's note: This is the 11th 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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On March 15, 2011, when the government’s nuclear emergency response headquarters was moved to the Fukushima prefectural government’s office, it also ushered in a new phase for dealing with the galloping nuclear crisis by both the prime minister’s office and the Defense Ministry.

Early in the morning of that day, Prime Minister Naoto Kan stormed into Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s head office in Tokyo and set up integrated government and TEPCO headquarters for responding to the nuclear disaster, triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Around that time, the United States was urging Japan to make truly national efforts to contain the crisis, including the use of Self-Defense Forces, instead of leaving it to the utility to bring the emergency under control.

The “shadow units” of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s (GSDF) Central Readiness Force (CRF) were to play the leading role in the government’s response to the nuclear disaster.

The 1st Helicopter Brigade of the CRF was deployed to spray water on the overheating reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from the sky. On March 16, the brigade was forced to abort the operation to dump water onto the No. 3 reactor. But the unit succeeded in its mission on the morning of the following day, March 17.

That day, attempts were also made to spray water on the reactor from the ground.

Kan, 66, asked Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, 80, to deploy the Tokyo Fire Department for emergency operations at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The Metropolitan Police Department dispatched a riot police unit on a high-pressure water-cannon truck.

The SDF unit assigned to the dangerous mission was the Central Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit, under the command of Lt. Col. Kazunori Hishinuma.

A total of 11 SDF fire engines had been moved to Fukushima from around the country. Of the 11 vehicles, Hishinuma picked five that had the capability of shooting water over a longer range.

On the evening of March 17, the SDF fire engines left the J-Village, a sports complex being used as a base for operations to deal with the crisis, accompanied by chemical protection vehicles. Equipped with an air cleaning system, these vehicles can move freely even in polluted areas.

From the window of the fire engine, Hishinuma saw an eerie landscape. Towns and villages were totally deserted, with no lights or people to be seen.

The landscape reminded Hishinuma of the scene following the sarin nerve gas attack against the Tokyo subway system, perpetrated by the Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, on March 20, 1995.

On that day, Hishinuma, clad in a chemical protective suit, rushed to the Kodenmacho Station of the subway Hibiya Line and sprinkled a decontamination agent onto the platform and train cars and then scrubbed them with a brush.

It was eerily silent within the station. As Hishinuma remembered the profound silence, strangely, calmness descended upon him.

On the night of the day, Hishinuma’s unit arrived at the disaster-stricken nuclear power plant and entered the crew room near the front gate. There were three TEPCO employees wearing white protective suits with their family names written on their left chest.

When he asked them how to access the reactor, they said there was no way to approach the reactor because the entire area was strewn with rubble.

It was decided that the SDF fire engines would line up from some 100 meters from the No. 3 reactor and move close to the reactor one by one to spray water at point-blank range.

When a fire engine sprays water on the reactor, it would be flanked by two chemical protection vehicles serving as a shield from radiation.

The fire engines would be manned by Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Force members trained for fighting fires aboard SDF aircraft. In the crew room, Hishinuma gave them instructions.

He told them that there was no doubt a hole on the building housing the No. 3 reactor.

“You are firefighting specialists, so spray water precisely into the hole,” he told them.

At 7:35 p.m., water nozzles were raised and directed toward the reactor building from one of the fire engines. The loudspeaker of a chemical protection vehicle blared, “Shoot.”

As the fire engine shot water toward the reactor, the crew saw steam rise from the building.

“Back down,” the loudspeaker cried out.

At 8:09 p.m., the fifth and last fire engine finished spraying water on the reactor. Thirty-five tons of water had been released from the five vehicles.

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