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Asahi - Shadow Units (18)

April 12, 2013


PROMETHEUS TRAP/ 'Shadow units' (18): Brigade commander faced crucial decision before reactor meltdown





Editor's note: This is the 18th 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.

* * *

In addition to the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Central Readiness Force, one of the “shadow units,” another GSDF unit was deployed for operations in areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant immediately after the nuclear accident broke out at the plant.

On the day after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, the GSDF’s 12th Brigade was hastily dispatched from Gunma Prefecture to Fukushima Prefecture for a mission to rescue disaster victims. Maj. Gen. Hidetoshi Horiguchi, 56, served as commander of the brigade in the rescue mission.

An explosion occurred in the building housing the No. 3 reactor at 11 a.m. on March 14.

The government had already issued an evacuation order for areas within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant. But many of the residents had yet to move out of the zone. There were also reports about people left behind in hospitals and facilities for the elderly.

The headquarters of the GSDF’s Camp Koriyama, where the 12th Brigade was based, was flooded with calls for help. Horiguchi responded by issuing one order after another.

“Transport patients (to hospitals)!” “Bring fuel and water (to victims)!”

Some 2,000 members of the brigade carried out his orders one by one.

The headquarters continued receiving requests for assistance well into the night. Brigade members ran around the areas, doing all kinds of tasks to help disaster victims.

Horiguchi wrote down detailed plans for operations and matters to be attended to, while looking at a map of Fukushima Prefecture spread over a table for operations planning.

“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” he said to himself, trying to keep his mind occupied with the task at hand.

A member of his brigade called out to Horiguchi.

“The deputy commander of the CRF wants you on the phone, sir,” he said.

As soon as Horiguchi picked up the phone, the deputy commander hurriedly said to him, "There is a possibility of a meltdown in 90 minutes.”

“A meltdown … ,” Horiguchi repeated the words and wondered if it could really occur.

After he hung up, the brigade commander began to think about what he had just heard in silence without telling anyone.

He looked at his watch, which showed it was past 8:50 p.m. That meant an emergency situation could occur at 10:20 p.m.

A TV news program was reporting that the No. 2 reactor might have suffered a core meltdown.

A vision of the worst scenario flashed through his mind. During the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, an explosion at a reactor that spiraled out of control released tremendous amounts of radioactive materials into the air.

Horiguchi faced a critical and urgent decision: Should his brigade continue its mission or abort it?

He took another look at the map in front of him.

Within 30 kilometers of the nuclear power plant, where the power supply had been cut off, legions of SDF personnel were busily engaged in a variety of tasks, such as supplying water, transporting patients and searching for missing people.

Given the time needed to communicate an order to the personnel and evacuate residents from the areas, he had to make the decision by 9 p.m. at the latest.

Horiguchi felt his stomach churning due to extreme tension.

“I’ve got to make the decision. I’m in charge of Fukushima Prefecture,” he thought to himself.

Horiguchi called a brigade member in charge of communications and gave him the order.

“We launch a MOPP4 operation.”

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