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Fukushima Police Perspective: The fear of death (Pt. 4)

The No. 4 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is seen in this May 1, 2011, file photo. The reactor building was badly damaged by a hydrogen explosion. (Photo courtesy of Fukushima Prefectural Police)

When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck, I was working as a police officer at the administrative office of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). The structure is situated just north of the plant's No. 1 reactor building.

    Cabinets and kitchen shelves in the office fell down and cracks developed in buildings and roads on the premises of the power station after the violent temblor lasted for a long time.

    I remember that I thought at the time, "This structure may collapse and I may die."

    After the quake stopped, I attempted to report to police headquarters how much the nuclear plant had been damaged in the quake, but I was unable to contact the headquarters because the phone call did not get through and radio communications were in chaos. I was desperate because I feared that I could be involved in a secondary disaster.

    I subsequently managed to contact the headquarters by radio, and reported that the plant had not been damaged in the disaster and that no tsunami had occurred at the time. After that I left the administrative office and joined the others who had completed guiding plant workers to evacuate, and walked toward higher ground.

    While I was fleeing to higher ground, I looked down at the sea from a slope and saw a massive tsunami. Some nuclear plant workers who were fleeing were looking at or taking photos of the tsunami. I urged them to quickly flee. "Evacuate quickly, or you could be engulfed by tsunami and die," I said.

    By that time, tsunami waves had come close to the first floor entrance of the administrative office of the atomic power station. I saw objects, believed to be diesel fuel tanks laid at the port on the plant's premises, being washed away.

    At the time, I felt the fear of death for the second time as I thought that if my evacuation from the administrative office had been delayed by even five minutes, I might have died.

    Nuclear plant workers who were with me appeared to understand the seriousness and danger of the situation, and rushed to higher ground.

    Later in the day, I guided local residents to evacuate while riding in a police car. I spent that night feeling tense and exhausted.

    The following day, I patrolled the town to see extensive damage bought about by the earthquake and tsunami. The town was filled with rubble and the ground had subsided and caved in at many locations. I could hardly believe my eyes.

    The moment of despair came on the afternoon of March 12 when I heard on police radio that an explosion occurred at the nuclear power plant, adding further damage to the town already devastated by the quake and tsunami.

    "I may really die this time," I said to myself. I was more afraid of death than ever before. I was extremely terrified.

    My lack of knowledge about radiation appears to have amplified my fears. Since the quake, my calls on mobile phones had not got through and I was worried about my family and friends who I was unable to contact.

    Despite such fears, I was able to execute my duties because I had my own code of conduct that police are there to serve local residents and I believed that I must do everything I could as a police officer. (By Yohei Kono, aged in his 20s, at the Regional Safety Division of Fukushima Prefectural Police, August 2011)

    The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant grounds are covered with rubble in this May 1, 2011, file photo. (Photo courtesy of Fukushima Prefectural Police)

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