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Asahi - Shadow Units (16)

April 8, 2013


PROMETHEUS TRAP/ 'Shadow units' (16): SDF members take off protective gear to ease concerns of residents




Editor's note: This is the 16th 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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To change the way a list of individuals needing special assistance to evacuate from the nuclear accident was being compiled, Lt. Col. Toshio Akabane had Maj. Gen. Tetsuro Yamanoue, the commander of the 1st Airborne Brigade, see for himself what the situation was like.

Akabane escorted Yamanoue on March 19, 2011, to Minami-Soma, which lay in a radius between 20 and 30 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

"Doesn't this seem like a very strange picture?" Akabane asked his superior.

The brigade was compiling a list of residents who would require special attention if an evacuation was needed because of the worsening situation at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. Akabane and other SDF members making the rounds of homes all wore white protective gear. Residents who came out to speak to the SDF members were dressed in ordinary clothing.

Facing the SDF members in their bulky outfits, many residents found it difficult to respond calmly and frankly.

Akabane had also received reports from his subordinates that they never got very far in questioning residents because they wanted explanations of just how dangerous the area was in terms of radiation.

Akabane asked Yamanoue, "Will you allow us to end the wearing of the protective gear?"

The rule had been to wear protective gear to guard against radioactive materials.

Reflecting on the situation, Yamanoue felt the large gap in appearance between SDF members and the local residents the members were supposed to help. The difference may be creating a wall between the two sides. Preparing for an emergency was an urgent task because there was no way of knowing when the situation at the nuclear plant would worsen.

Yamanoue decided on the spot, "OK, let's stop wearing the gear."

However, to prepare for a possible emergency, SDF members still had to carry their gear with them.

Removing the protective outfits helped in gaining valuable information from local residents. Still, visiting each and every home was time consuming. It was worse when residents were not at home because there was no way of knowing if the resident had moved to an evacuation center, or had simply stepped out temporarily or could not respond because they were bedridden.

SDF members used whatever means they could think of, such as checking the electricity meters and peeking into the mailbox, to track down residents at home, often after repeated visits.

In the course of that work, SDF members began voicing concerns about radiation. To respond to those concerns, Akabane asked a senior officer who was knowledgeable about radiation control to lecture the regiment members.

The members had various concerns, such as "Will there be abnormalities in my sperm?" and "What are the effects on rainy days?"

The officer said, "Under the present circumstances, there will be no fundamental effect on sperm. On rainy days, it would be preferable to remain indoors if at all possible."

Akabane noticed the visible relief wash over the faces of his subordinates.

After March 20, 2011, the 1st Airborne Brigade divided into three units based to the north, west and south of the Fukushima No. 1 plant and continued with the work to confirm the status of residents. A list was compiled of about 400 residents who would require special help if evacuation became necessary.

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