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, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Video Report: Minneapolis Man Was 2nd American Killed in Syria

Local television report says Abdirahman Muhumed left the area to fight for Islamic State militants More

WHO Fears Ebola Outbreak Could Infect 20,000 People

World Health Organization says outbreak 'continues to accelerate' but that most cases are concentrated in a few local areas More

Angelina Jolie Marries Brad Pitt

Actors wed in small private ceremony Saturday in France 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.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid