The Economist: “Something strange was afoot” during Prime Minister’s visit to plant — Fukushima 50 muzzled

Published: October 8th, 2012 at 8:14 am ET


Title: Japan’s nuclear disaster: Meet the Fukushima 50? No, you can’t
Source: The Economist
Author: Banyan
Date: Oct 8, 2012

It has taken the Japanese government more than 18 months to pay tribute to a group of brave men, once known as the “Fukushima 50”, who risked their lives to prevent meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant from spiralling out of control. But when the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, belatedly offered official thanks to them on October 7th something strange was afoot: six of the eight men he addressed had their backs to the television cameras, refused to be photographed and did not introduce themselves by name, not even to Mr Noda (see the image below).

The reason: officials from the government and from Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) quietly admitted that the men wanted to keep their identities secret because they were scared of stigmatisation for being involved in the disaster, such as might lead to the bullying of their children and grandchildren. But Tepco is also muzzling them, presumably for fear that what they say will further discredit the now nationalised company. When I asked if I could at least hand my business card to them to see if they wanted to tell their side of the story, an irate Tepco spokesman answered bluntly: “Impossible.”


Yet even after Mr Noda’s visit, the men do not get the recognition they deserve. Kyodo, a news agency, relegates any mention of them to the bottom of a boring story about decontamination.


Published: October 8th, 2012 at 8:14 am ET


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13 comments to The Economist: “Something strange was afoot” during Prime Minister’s visit to plant — Fukushima 50 muzzled

  • Sickputer

    The disease cancer in America 50 years ago once held similar social stigma because ignorant people feared it was contagious. Same thing with AIDS 30 years ago.

    In Japan the social stigma of radiation exposure began 67 years ago after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Survivors and offspring are to this day still in a different lower caste than the "normal" Japanese.

    The stigma of Fukushima survivors takes the same track. Marriage, employment, housing, loans, and social status are affected. Adjoining prefectures may be nearly as radioactive, but Fukushima is ground zero and gets the lowest caste status for what we can simply say is the new mutant class of nuclear survivors.

    Like AIDS, people fear radiation exposure and anyone who might carry the associated diseases. A southern Japanese family will try to prevent their adult children from marrying the radioactive "mutants" who could possibly pass on birth defects or impose financial difficulties from longterm radiation illnesses.

    The rise in national radioactive bioaccumulation from continued wind and waterborne nuclear fallout from the still spewing reactors will even out some of the stigma, but bullies will still proclaim their superiority and punish Fukushima residents. Harsh as it sounds it is a natural selection response for survival of the human species.

  • We don't know why six of the eight men addressed by Noda had their backs turned to the camera. T3PC0 says it's because they were scared of 'stigmatisation,' but also will not allow these employees to tell their side of the story. In my opinion, that means the reason T3PC0 gives is likely false. Hopefully, the Fuku Fifty will find some way to tell their story.

    I wouldn't shake Noda's hand, either.

  • AGreenRoad AGreenRoad

    On Fukushima Beach Movie Parts 1 – 4; via A Green Road

    UN Proposal To Establish Ecocide; Prevent Damage To Environment; via A Green Road

  • AGreenRoad AGreenRoad

    What is the meaning of someone in a country like Japan turning their back on you?

    Could it be a sign of total loss of respect?

    They are big on bowing and facing each other..

    Turning one's back may be the biggest statement of all… one step above not showing up at all.

  • getoutwhileyoustillcan

    "something strange was afoot: six of the eight men he addressed had their backs to the television cameras, refused to be photographed and did not introduce themselves by name"

    Maybe they're not the real ones, because the real ones already died from exposure?

    • guezilla

      A slight hitch with this theory is that the only two men shown and named were leaders of the Fukushima 50 group, probably lower managers, who would be most recognizable of the lot (And certainly able to tell if the 6 others were fake!). Since nobody has yet come out to say they're not who they are, it doesn't look likely the whole lot of them died. If they did die, Tepco could've dragged in just about anybody and nobody could've proven they weren't the original Fukushima 50. Plus it would've made sense to drag in more people than just 6, though admittely the more people are involved the harder to keep the secret.

      On the other hand, the short accounts of the Fukushima 50 I've seen mention they gathered at "antiseismic building". That alone should be enough to give you chills – "Here are our six reactors… and here's the earthquake hardened building". Ouch. However it doesn't take a genius to guess the antiseismic building will also have been well shielded from radiation, in fact almost certainly such a "command bunker" exists just for radiation events. It stands to reason the on-site leaders would have stayed there most of the time to keep in touch with outside and so the workers know where to find them safely. Still it would afford limited protection against actual ejection of nuclear material.

  • many moons

    Maybe only 2 of the men were really part of the fuku 50….perhaps they just hauled in some other folks to be…stand ins….

  • Sickputer

    Good guess…no photos of faces makes it harder to prove they are non-Fukushima 50 workers.

  • shiverca shiverca

    I hate to say this but it's possible alot of them died heroes. With the radiation levels they were getting DAILY and proof that the reactors that EXPLODED on day 1 and blew the core material everywhere, this is very likely.

    • guezilla

      Possible. I'm sure we should not take their word for it, but according to TEPCO they were wearing dosimeters and allowed to only accumulate 80 mSv before being removed from work, and that in all 7 of them accumulated over 100 mSv.

      My personal concern is it's starting to look more likely a prompt criticality might actually have happened, and I doubt if the dosimeters would even have recorded such a sudden spike in radiation. However it would almost certainly have signed the death warrants of anybody on the powerplant grounds and not heavily shielded. That only the team leaders and 6 of the workers showed up can be considered some collaborating evidence for the prompt criticality theory – although the symptoms of acute radiation poisoning would have been hard to miss, but then we're not really expecting transparency…

      • voltscommissar

        Re: Prompt Criticality: The visible flash on the SE corner of Unit 3 lasted for about 0.5 sec in my "enhanced" video analysis at . The appearance in a TV image depends a lot on the optics and CCD sensor properties of the Japanese HDTV cameras.

        BUT!! if you read this fascinating account** of what happens in the first 500 milliseconds of a regular nuclear weapon (fission) explosion, it raises the intriguing possibility that the strange behaviour of the "expanding-shrinking-disappearing" flash at Unit 3 was precisely because it was due to high-energy gamma and X-rays ionizing and heating the air within 20-30 metres of SFP3.


        I'm still finding it very hard to get my head around Arnie Gundersen's idea that the steam explosion triggered a prompt criticality in the adjacent SFP: "brain hurts"…

  • pierre

    if TEPCO really cared they would have got the 50 to put their sperm bank before they clocked on (if it wasnt too late). you know, breeding heroes that are useful to the media spin.

  • ForwardAssist ForwardAssist

    At least one of the 50 gets to say a few words.