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

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web 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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs