By Brett Michael Dykes
As Japan continues to grapple with catastrophic radiation leaks at the quake-damaged Fukushima Daichii nuclear complex, the plant's remaining workers have shown heroic dedication in the face of a task that amounts to a likely suicide mission.
The global audience following the Japanese nuclear drama has learned a little about these selfless heroes. But some of the most basic questions about them--who they are and what has motivated them to make the ultimate sacrifice--have gone unanswered. Now, however, the Agence France Press reporter Kimi De Freytas has published an interview with one of the Fukushima workers that sheds considerable light on how they understand their mission--and how they are holding up under under the extraordinary, mortal stress they are facing.
Hiroyuki Kohno, a 44-year-old plant worker who's been employed in the nuclear industry since he was a teenager, promptly answered the emergency call issued by his employer, a subcontractor for the Tokyo Electric Power Company. Shortly after last March's devastating earthquake and tsunami produced a power outage at the facility, Kohno's employers sent out an all-hands appeal via email.
"Attention. We would like you to come work at the plant. Can you?" De Freytas reports the email read. Kohno, who has worked at the Fukushima facility for the past decade, said he knew what the implications of heeding the call would be.
"To be honest, no one wants to go," Kohno told De Freytas. "Radiation levels at the plant are unbelievably high compared with normal conditions. I know that when I go this time, I will return with a body no longer capable of work at a nuclear plant."
Kohno told De Freytas that as a single man with no children, he felt obligated to answer the call and join the team that the media has dubbed the "Fukushima Fifty." Better that he face the risk, he explained, so as to spare his colleagues who have dependents counting on them. Besides, he added, the workers in the plant are his brothers and sisters, and he feels an allegiance to them.
"There's a Japanese expression: 'We eat from the same bowl.' These are friends I shared pain and laughter with. That's why I'm going," he explained to De Freytas.
Other workers among the Fukushima Fifty have apparently discussed the dire prospects ahead fairly openly. As the unidentified mother of a 32-year-old plant worker explained in a tearful phone interview with Fox News, "My son and his colleagues have discussed it at length and they have committed themselves to die if necessary to save the nation." Meanwhile, plant officials have sought to supplement the ranks of workers seeking to contain the spread of radioactive contamination from the facility with workers known as "jumpers"—contract employees who agree to complete designated tasks before fleeing in the hopes that they can shun sustained radioactive exposure. Workers in the "jumper" corps are being offered as much as $5,000 a day, Reuters reports—and many are still turning the offers down.
While the fate of Kohno and his fellow workers remains uncertain, their fellow citizens are already determined to commemorate their heroism.
(Photo of Fukushima plant workers trying to cool reactor: Tokyo Electric Power Co./AP)
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