Jessica: Less than an hour after the earthquake hit, a 40-foot wall of water slammed into the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, sparking the worst nuclear crisis in over twenty years.
The tsunami knocked out the electricity, and with no power there was no way to cool the nuclear reactors. They began to melt and leak potentially deadly amounts of radiation into the environment. Pressure building up inside the plant caused explosions that released radioactive particles into the air. I was there in the days after.
A government press conference said there is enough radiation that has been leaked to cause health problems. And they told those who are still within 19 miles of the plant to stay inside.
We decided to leave, but workers at the Fukushima did not. They were tasked with saving the plant, their country — really, the world — from a nuclear disaster.
For more than a week, the world watched as Japan tried to cool the reactors with water from the air. Finally, they were able to lay down pipes that could supply a constant flow of water to cool the reactors and avoid the worst case scenario where the nuclear rods could have melted through their containment vessels and into the ground.
Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, runs the plant.
How close were you to nuclear meltdown?
“We assume most of reactor 1 was damaged and 2 and 3 not as bad. But nobody has been inside.”
Jessica: Nobody has been inside? Why not?
Jessica: TEPCO says the radiation levels are still too high to examine the reactors. This danger is delaying the clean up of the plant which they claim is stable but still in ruins.
The radiation threat is also why the government has kept a 12-mile mandatory evacuation zone around the plant. Wearing protective suits, we tried to go in.
Can you ask why we can’t go inside?
“We need to tell them how long we’re going to stay.”
Jessica: Well, we want to go through. Can we go though? Why not?
“Is this reporting?”
Jessica: I am just asking questions and wondering why we can’t go inside.
Officials told us only plant workers and those with homes in the area are allowed inside. Even residents have limited access. That means more than 100,000 people have been forced to find new homes.
We just got to the school that is serving as a temporary housing for residents who had homes in the evacuation zone. We know in the past, they have kicked out journalists, so we are going to go upstairs and see what happens.
Upstairs the classrooms have been converted into bedrooms. Thirteen people are living in this one room. It is a bare bones existence. This man is sleeping on a rug and look at these cardboard boxes. They are serving as makeshift walls.
We met this 20-year-old who has been living here since last April.
So compared to how you lived before when you lived in a house, and you lived in a town, what is it like living here now?
“There’s no privacy. When I want to change my clothes, just puts the futon blankets over her head and change.”
Jessica: She and the rest of the people here brought few items from their homes. Most evacuated on short notice and believe everything left behind is contaminated with radiation.
Are you mad that it has been a year and you are still living like this, using as walls cardboard boxes, in a place where you have no privacy?
“A lot of us were frustrated at first but people have to get used to it.”
When you were living in Futaba, what did you think of the Fukushima power plant?
“We were always told that the new plant is safe all along, and that helps the economy in town too. So we had to believe it, and we didn’t know any other way. So we believed that and just let it be there.”
Jessica: We have to pack up because one of the officials told us to leave. The official refused to give us a reason why we couldn’t film.
Japanese officials may not want us to see inside the high school or the exclusion zone but they can’t hide the victims of this disaster or suppress the voices of those speaking out against nuclear power.