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Fukushima Police Perspective: 'Tough duty' in the nuclear crisis no-go zone (Pt. 5)

A pet dog abandoned after the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis approaches police officers in protective suits in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, on April 4, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Fukushima Prefectural Police)

I was working at Fukushima Police Station in the city of Fukushima when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011 -- a day I can never forget.

    Shortly after the quake hit, the station set up a disaster task force on the third floor, headed by the station chief. The prefectural police disaster task force, headed by the force's director, was also established on the fourth floor of the police station.

    I was assigned to the police station's task force and responded to the disaster in an area under the station's jurisdiction, and was also a liaison officer to the prefectural police's task force. I was therefore able to grasp the extent of the damage across the entire prefecture. The devastation, I leaned slowly, was more severe than I had imagined. I came to understand that this was an extremely serious natural disaster, the likes of which no one had ever experienced.

    Immediately after the quake, the only thing I had in mind was our response to traffic lights that went out, landslides, fires, and other damage triggered directly by the temblor. I never imagined that the quake would cause a nuclear disaster.

    On May 18 of the same year, I was transferred to Fukushima North Police Station. I was given opportunities to visit areas around the nuclear plant as a member of the safety management support unit and had many different experiences.

    The safety management support unit assists a search unit that looks for missing people, as its name implies. Its main tasks are to measure radiation levels on valuables and the bodies of victims recovered in search operations, and to monitor radiation at fixed points and in areas where searches are being conducted.

    A police officer walks over rubble to reach a search area in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, on April 3, 2011. (Photo courtesy of Fukushima Prefectural Police)

    Each member of the unit used two airborne radiation meters (a digital one and an analog one), and a meter for taking surface contamination readings. Though I had some knowledge about these devices, I had never actually used one before, so it took me a long time before I got accustomed to them.

    I put on a protective suit and headed into the area around the crippled atomic power station every morning. On my way, I saw homemade placards put up by the locals along the route, with messages like, "Thank you for your help in disaster recovery," and, "Please try hard."

    I was deeply impressed whenever I saw such messages, and felt that I would work hard for disaster-hit prefectural residents. Such messages of encouragement gave me the strength to endure my tougher duties.

    Working in a dangerous environment is not the only kind of "tough" duty, however.

    I saw many collapsed houses, and houses with laundry left hanging on the line outside, suggesting the people who lived there had left in a great hurry. I saw emaciated pets coming up to people. It was heartbreaking to see neighborhoods where it looked like time had simply stopped on March 11, 2011, because of the radioactive contamination from the nuclear crisis. (By Naoki Kamitsuma, aged in his 20s, at Fukushima Police Station, August 2011)

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