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

UN Fears Rights Violations in China-backed Projects

UNHCHR investigates link between financing development and ignoring safeguards for human rights More

Boko Haram Violence Tests Nigerians’ Faith in Buhari

New president has promised to stem insurgency; he’s scheduled to meet with President Obama at White House July 20 More

Social Media Network Wants Privacy in User’s Hands

Encryption's popularity in messaging is exploding; now it's the foundation of a new social network 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.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez 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 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 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.

VOA Blogs