What Really Happened When Quake Hit Fukushima

Nuclear crisis was more desperate than the world realized
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 18, 2011 7:30 AM CDT
What Really Happened When the Quake Hit Fukushima
In this video image taken from NTV Japan via APTN, smoke rises from Unit 1 of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, March 12, 2011.   (AP Photo/NTV Japan via APTN)

(Newser) – The first 24 hours of the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi were more chaotic and dangerous than the outside world ever dreamed. When the tsunami hit and knocked out the plant’s backup generators, workers turned into scavengers, searching nearby homes for flashlights and ripping the batteries out of cars in a desperate attempt to get broken gauges working again, according to new reactor “diaries” released by Tepco and Wall Street Journal interviews. The meltdown started almost immediately—and workers didn’t even realize it.

Workers thought the reactor’s backup batteries would buy them eight hours, not realizing those batteries were down. Pressure soared past safe levels, but Tepco executives waited seven hours to vent the reactor, until Prime Minister Naoto Kan flew in for a tense meeting/shouting match with Tepco’s nuclear chief. “This is no time to dilly-dally,” Kan cried. “Do it fast, whatever way you can!” With the power down, a brave shift manager had to open the vents by hand, exposing himself to a hundred times a normal person’s yearly radiation exposure. (Read more Naoto Kan stories.)

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