News / Asia

VOA Correspondent Reaches Crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant

Guards read a whiteboard near the Fukushima-1 nuclear plant's main gate, Futaba, Japan
Guards read a whiteboard near the Fukushima-1 nuclear plant's main gate, Futaba, Japan

Multimedia

Audio
  • Steve Herman describes his trip to the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

VOA correspondent Steve Herman was the first of two American reporters to gain entry to the grounds of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi ('daiichi' means 'one' in Japanese) nuclear power plant on Wednesday. But the duo was permitted no farther than the main gate.

Since the March 11 magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami destroyed part of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant here, few reporters seem to have attempted to reach the facility.

Correspondents are usually the first to race to any disaster site or combat zone, but fear of bodily harm by an invisible culprit seems to have restrained typical reportorial instincts.

There is, actually, no legal reason barring us despite a perception to the contrary.


Although police at lightly manned roadblocks try to prevent any unauthorized vehicles from entering the 20 kilometer radiation exclusion zone, as of March 13, they have no means to legally enforce the barricades.

That is expected to change at any moment, according to Japan's government, which earlier in the week designated five additional municipalities as part of the "deliberate evacuation area" and announced the entire zone will be legally off-limits, even to homeowners scurrying back in to retrieve belongings (as we discovered Tuesday in nearby Namie).

The enforcement will begin when the Prime Minister instructs mayor and village heads in the zone that he has established a binding ''caution area.'' After that only those who are engaged in disaster relief or who work at the Fukushima nuclear plant will be permitted to enter.  Violators will face arrest and an as-yet-unannounced punishment.

Northeast Asia bureau chief John Glionna of the Los Angeles Times and I gained access all the way to the main gate of Fukushima Daiichi on Wednesday.

VOA's Steve Herman, reporting from Japan, Mar. 2011.
VOA's Steve Herman, reporting from Japan, Mar. 2011.

Police instructed us not to open our vehicle windows and to report to a radiation screening center in the town of Tamura afterwards, where we should wash the truck.

As we moved towards "ground zero" we passed kilometers of fields from which farmers have fled. For most of the 20-kilometer journey we spotted only police, military and other official vehicles. Even those we could count on one hand.

Not a single person was seen outside in Futaba and Okuma, which until March 11 had a combined population of about 18,500. The doors of some businesses remain open through which people hastily fled when the ground shook with unprecedented fury.

Some of the roads cannot be traversed in a normal car. The pavement in places was split apart by the quake. A railroad overpass lies crumpled next to one road. Power poles lean at sharp angles.

The immediate area around Fukushima Daiichi is relatively unscathed. The worst damage was over the other side of the hill when a tsunami, believed to have reached 14 meters in height (more than eight meters than the planned worst case scenario) washed away backup generators to cool the plant's reactors and fuel rods after power was cut by the earthquake. That set off an unimagined chain reaction of one disaster after another, which have been front page news around the world nearly every day for the past month.

After a drive up the slope to the main gate of Fukushima Daiichi we were greeted by two guards outfitted in hazmat suits, helmets and dual intake respirator masks.

Perhaps "greeted" is the wrong word.

Listen to Steve Herman describe Fukushima's nuclear power plant.

Our attempts to ask questions were rebuffed. The only return communication was the hand signal to make a U-turn. The license plate of our vehicle was noted. It was manifestly clear we could not proceed further and were not encouraged to loiter.

In the parking lot, I spotted a panel with one of those messages typically seen at industrial or construction sites. It was a billboard erected by the "TEPCO Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant Safety Committee."

The message, obviously unchanged since March 11, makes what can only be read now as an extremely ironic proclamation: "This month's safety slogan: Be sure to check everything and do a risk assessment. Zero disasters for this year."

Steve Herman is VOA's Northeast Asia regional bureau chief, based in Seoul. He has been reporting on the natural and nuclear disasters from Japan for much of the past month.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Video On The Scene: In Ethiopia, 'Are You a Journalist?' Is a Loaded Question

VOA's Anita Powell describes the difficulties faced by reporters in fully conveying the story in a country where people are reticent to share their true opinions More

Nigerians Await New President With High Hopes

When pomp and circumstance of inauguration end in Abuja, Buhari will sit down to the hard task of governing Nigeria More

India's Restrictions on Several NGOs Raise Concerns

Political analysts link recent clampdown on advocacy groups to report last year that said foreign-funded NGO’s negatively impact economic development More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardshipi
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
May 28, 2015 6:48 PM
Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Expelled from Pakistan, Afghan Refugees Return to Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Floodwaters Recede in Houston, but Rain Continues

Many parts of Texas are recovering from one of the worst natural disasters to hit the southwestern state. Heavy rains on Monday and early Tuesday caused rivers to swell in eastern and central Texas, washing away homes and killing at least 13 people. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, floodwaters are receding slowly in the country's fourth-largest city, and there likely is to be more rain in the coming days.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.

VOA Blogs