A visit to Fukushima Ground Zero
By Issei Kato
“This day finally came.”
That was my first impression when I was chosen as a pool photographer on behalf of foreign media based in Japan to visit the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
We were allowed to enter the plant last Monday, ahead of Japan’s one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl. The media tour was the first to take place since the Japanese government announced in December that reactors at the plant had reached a stage of cold shutdown. We were allowed to cover not just from inside a bus, but from a certain outlying spot close to a reactor building for 15 minutes.
The pictures and TV footage of the explosion at Fukushima Daiichi that followed the disaster had filled me with fear. Although the government and the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) had explained at the time, that it was a “hydrovolcanic explosion” we had witnessed, the blast appeared more like the explosion of the atomic reactor itself. “Can we keep on living in this country?” “Would this incident end up forcing Tokyo and nearby residents to abandon home to escape?” I can easily recall the fears I felt at the time of the explosion.
When I received the offer to do this assignment, honestly, I struggled against a feeling of fear, thinking about its potential risk. But then I recalled the reason why I chose the job of a news photographer. A key motivation was that I wanted to be “an eyewitness of the historical moment.” I just could not refuse the offer and decided to take the opportunity to enter Japan’s ground zero.
During the tour, we were strictly required to wear a full-face mask, protective suits, shoe covers, and globe, and carry an alarm pocket dosimeter (APD). We also had to receive a screening test and a white blood cell scanning test before and after the tour. Frankly speaking, it was not at all a perfect condition to take pictures, with a full-face mask which made me feel unbearably hot. Camera equipment was also required to be wrapped by plastic bags to avoid radioactive contamination. A goggle with the full-face mask was misted due to sweat and humidity, which occasionally made it difficult to see anything in the viewfinder.
Aside from tireless debate over the pros and cons of Japan’s nuclear and energy policy, and the status of TEPCO and its plant workers, I only would like obediently to express my thanks to the plant workers, who have made incredible efforts to cope with the crisis under horrible conditions. On top of the radiation fears, their operation must have been a lot more difficult during summer season. I want to help out the best I can – by taking pictures and reporting the status of the crisis.