Two Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) workers whose bodies were found at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power plant some three weeks after the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami were struck by the tsunami while inspecting an underground facility under orders, the Mainichi has learned.
The deceased pair, Kazuhiko Kokubo, 24, and Yoshiki Terashima, 21, were ordered by their shift supervisor to check for leaks in the basement of the plant’s No. 4 reactor turbine building when they were hit by the tsunami. At the time a major tsunami warning was in place. It is the first time that details on the background to their deaths have emerged.
In an accident report released in June, TEPCO said that the safety of workers had been confirmed after the quake, and that workers were aware of the earthquake and tsunami, but the latest finding suggests that not all workers knew about the impending tsunami.
At the time of the earthquake, the No. 4 reactor was under inspection, and the fuel rods had been removed. TEPCO officials and other sources said that the two workers were in the central control room at the time, inspecting the power operations of the No. 4 reactor and the opening and closing of valves. After the earthquake struck, an alarm went off, indicating that the water level in the cooling tank of the No. 4 reactor turbine building had dropped. The shift manager accordingly ordered the workers to go and check for leaks. Electricity to the building had been cut, so the pair headed to the underground location of the tank pipes with flashlights.
Terashima phoned his parents’ home in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, at about 3 p.m., and it is believed that he went to inspect the pipes after this.
Japan’s Meteorological Agency released a major tsunami warning for Fukushima Prefecture and other areas at 2:49 p.m. on March 11, three minutes after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck. The first wave of the tsunami, measuring about four meters in height, hit the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant at around 3:27 p.m. Eight minutes later, a second wave believed to be more than 10 meters high arrived, surging over a coastal levee and practically submerging all of the buildings at the plant.
On March 12, TEPCO announced that two workers were missing. The company later conducted a search in the basement of the turbine building, but high radiation levels in water hampered its efforts. Police found the bodies of the pair on March 30, after the water subsided, and an announcement on the discovery of their bodies was made on April 3.
In a news conference the same day TEPCO said it was “investigating” why the workers went into the turbine building, not mentioning that they had been ordered to conduct inspections.
In a report on the company’s response to the accident, which was released June 18 under the title “Response at Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant,” TEPCO stated that the safety of workers was confirmed and that a paging system was used to inform workers about the earthquake and tsunami. However, it made no mention of the inspection orders issued to the two workers.
A TEPCO representative admitted that the shift manager had ordered the two workers to conduct inspections. The representative said the workers in the central control room were aware of the major tsunami warning but the company was unable to confirm whether the information had reached the two workers.