A Ground Self-Defense Force officer who was nearly killed by one of the hydrogen explosions at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March recalled Sunday how the blast made him fear for his life and those of his men.
Photo: Kyodo news
It went boom: Col. Shinji Iwakuma, leader of the Ground Self-Defense Force's Central Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit, speaks of his brush with the hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, at the GSDF base in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Sunday.
"I thought that if it was a bad blast, we would not survive it," said Col. Shinji Iwakuma, leader of the GSDF's Central Nuclear Biological Chemical Weapon Defense Unit.
The March 14 blast at the No. 3 reactor injured four of Iwakuma's men just as the six-member team was preparing to spray water onto the crippled reactor, which lost its cooling system in the March 11 quake and tsunami and was overheating to dangerous levels.
While the team is experienced in dealing with nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Iwakuma, 49, said that a mission requiring the cooling of an out of control reactor was an "unforeseen" scenario.
Iwakuma, who headed out to the No. 3 reactor with five men in three vehicles, was about to open the door of his car when the hydrogen explosion occurred at 11:01 a.m.
The thundering explosion and accompanying blast wave sent concrete and radioactive debris soaring about 70 meters into the air, obscuring his view in a cloud of gray dust, the colonel said.
"I think the debris fell for several dozen seconds, but it felt like it was for a very long time," Iwakuma said.
After managing to get out of his car, he noticed that his men were injured, dragging their legs or holding their arms tightly.
"Are you all right? We will get out of here right now," Iwakuma told them. One man had to be carried over his shoulder.
The dosimeter they had with them was giving off readings of about 20 millisieverts at the time.
Iwakuma said Tokyo Electric Power Co. did not warn them there was a danger of a hydrogen explosion occurring and only said unit 3 was unstable.
"Tokyo Electric was desperate to stabilize (the plant), so I am not angry at them," Iwakuma said, but added, "If there is a possibility of an explosion, I would be reluctant to send my men there."