Fukushima 50 is the pseudonym given by the media to a group of employees at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, a related series of nuclear accidents resulted in a serious fire at the plant's unit 4 on 15 March 2011, these 50 employees remained on-site after 750 other workers were evacuated.
After TEPCO management proposed withdrawing all its employees from the plant on 14 March, additional manpower was deployed from around Japan. Some workers traveled on clear roads by convoy from Tokyo. When they arrived, hundreds of firemen, SDF personnel and employees of TEPCO, convened 20 km from the plant and debated how to best stabilize the plant. On the night of 15 March, these workers joined the original Fukushima 50. Despite the incorrect figure of workers, the Fukushima 50 has remained the pseudonym used by media to refer to the group of workers at Fukushima reflecting the solitary nature of the role.
The number of the workers involved rose to 580 on the morning of 18 March as staff from the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant and workers installing the new power line joined in. More than 1,000 workers, firefighters and soldiers were toiling at the site on 23 March. The Fukushima 50 were drawn from Toshiba, Hitachi, Kajima, firefighters from Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, Kawasaki, Nagoya and Kyoto, TEPCO and its subsidiaries such as Kandenko, TEP Industry and TEP Environmental Engineering, and many small-to-mid-size companies that have contracts with these big companies.
Over 20 workers had been injured by 18 March, including one who was exposed to a large amount of ionizing radiation when the worker tried to vent vapour from a valve of the containment building. Three more workers were exposed to radiation over 100 mSv, and two of them were sent to a hospital due to beta burns on 24 March. Two other workers, Kazuhiko Kokubo, 24, and Yoshiki Terashima, 21, were killed by the tsunami while conducting emergency repairs immediately after the quake. Their bodies were found on 30 March.
The workers and volunteers were assigned the mission of stabilizing the reactors. Their activities included assessing the damage and radiation levels caused by the explosions, cooling stricken reactors with seawater and preventing any risk of fire. These workers remained on-site despite risks of radiation poisoning. Levels of radiation on site are far higher than in the 20 km exclusion zone and media outlets reported that the severity of the situation could have grave implications on their future health, with possibly fatal consequences for the workers. On 18 March, according to Prime Minister Naoto Kan the workers were "prepared for death".
A day before the unit 4 fire, a complete withdrawal proposed by TEPCO was rejected by the prime minister, to continue attempts at bringing the reactors under control during the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
- A daily schedule at Fukushima I nuclear plant according to the article on 28 March.
|7-8am.||meeting at the antiseismic building (免震重要棟, menshin-jūyō-tō, lit. avoiding quakes-important-building)|
|8-10am.||breakfast (biscuits about 30 pieces and one bottle of vegetable juice)|
|about 10am.||commence tasks at the reactor building and boiler building|
|about 5pm.||finish work|
|5-8pm.||supper (retort-packed rice and one canned food)|
|8-10pm.||meeting at the antiseismic building|
|about10pm.||sleep, with blanket on the floor, except people who work at night.|
During some work, in high radiation areas, the workers were limited to 15-minute sessions inside the damaged buildings.
The international limit for radiation exposure for nuclear workers is 20 millisievert (20 mSv, or 2 rem) per year, averaged over five years, with a limit of 50 mSv in any one year, however for workers performing emergency services United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance on dose limits is 100 mSv when "protecting valuable property" and 250 mSv when the activity is "life saving or protection of large populations."
Prior to the accident, the maximum permissible dose for Japanese nuclear workers was 100 mSv in any one year, but on 15 March 2011, the Japanese Health and Labor Ministry enforced the permitted 250 mSv limit, in light of the situation at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. However, the workers at Fukushima plant declined the elevated 250 mSv limit and kept adopting the previous 100 mSv. Tokyo Enesys, a TEPCO's subsidiary, adopts 80 mSv to manage the radiation level monitoring with some buffer. Kandenko, Kajima and Taisei Corporation adopted 100 mSv. Hitachi rewrote internal rule as 200 mSv. TEPCO decided to move workers around 200mSv to low-radiated site while its subsidiaries, Tokyo Enesys and Kandenko, adopted limits around 100mSv. Over 30 workers were radiated beyond 100 mSv by 23 April 2011.
According to the Guardian, the Fukushima workers have to be wary of radiation spiking—a sudden and unforeseen rise in radiation. This threat forced to evacuate the workers for a short period of time on the morning of Tuesday 15 March 2011 when radiation detected at Fukushima rose to approximately 1000 mSv/h, the highest level of radiation detected at any point of time during the accident at the plant.
The workers wore hazmat suits and hazmat masks, carrying dosimeters that alerted at 80 millisieverts. Each worker had to stop the operation once the dosimeter alerted. According to TEPCO, seven TEPCO workers were exposed to radiation over the limit of 100 millisievert by the morning of 20 March.
In context, immediate symptoms become apparent if exposed to above 250 mSv per day. Symptoms include nausea and loss of appetite as well as damage to bone marrow, lymph nodes and the spleen. Generally, these symptoms become more severe and noticeable in the 1000 to 3000 mSv bracket with recovery probable, but not assured. New and more serious symptoms appear above 3000 mSv such as peeling of the skin, hemorrhaging and sterility with death if left untreated.
The Fukushima 50 were present when an explosion and fire occurred at the Unit 4 reactor. There is confusion as to what extent radiation may have been released as a result of this incident. The Japanese government appears reluctant to divulge too much information about the situation for fear of causing panic.
Number of workers
Originally there were approximately 800 workers on 11 March 2011, the day the earthquake and tsunami struck. On 15 March, workers deemed non-essential were withdrawn by the Tokyo Electric Power Company. A total of around 750 workers left due to increased risk and consequently left around 50. It was on this day that the media started to call the remaining workers the "Fukushima 50".
However, on the morning of the 16 March the remaining workers had to be evacuated for a brief period of time due to a radiation spike which was detected which could be harmful to the workers' health. It was reported that when they returned to the plant, a further 130 or so workers joined their colleagues to total of around 180 to stabilize the reactors. The number of workers rose to 580 on the morning of the 18 March. By 12 April, approximately 700 workers were working on-site.
By 21 March 2011, Toshiba had sent a 100-strong team to two Fukushima plants as part of a task-force of 700 Toshiba workers organized at Toshiba's Isogo Engineering Centre to defuse the nuclear crisis, and Hitachi had dispatched 120 to Fukushima I and formed a 1000-strong task force.
Referring to the original 50 workers, nuclear researcher Dr. Eric Hall opined that they were likely to be older, and unlikely to have further children, so the long-term effects of exposure to high-levels of ionizing radiation would be less likely to appear before a natural death. Some younger workers were injured and young Osaka firefighters were operating at the site. A group of 250 skilled senior citizens volunteered to work in the radioactive environment, citing reduced harm to them.
On 10 July 2013, Masao Yoshida, leader of the Fukushima 50, died of esophageal cancer. TEPCO stated this form of cancer was unlikely related to the event at Fukushima since it usually takes 5–10 years to develop.
|Organization||Workers on site||Date of the #||Tasks||Source|
|Toshiba||100||Recovering Electricity, Installing pumps for sea water||||"Chosen team with full of skills and sense of responsibilities"(Toshiba PR staff), forming supporting team of 700 nuclear technicians at Isogo Engineering Centre and 150 supporting team at the main office.|
|Hitachi||120||24 March||||Electric technicians|
|IHI||30||24 March||supporting spraying at Unit 2|||
|Kajima and its subsidiaries||130 to 150||8 April|||
|Taisei Corporation||130 to 150||8 April|||
|Tokyo FD||139||19 March||spraying water||||On 19 March 2011, 139 responders worked, including 119 of the Tokyo "Hyper Rescues" Squad|
|Osaka FD||53*||19–22 March||spraying water, decontamination for firefighters||||supporting Tokyo FD|
|Yokohama FD||67*||22–24 March||spraying water||||succeeded Osaka FD|
|Kawasaki FD||36*||24–26 March||spraying water||||succeeded Yokohama FD, spraying at #3|
|Nagoya FD||34*||26–28 March||spraying water||||succeeded Kawasaki FD, a firefighter aged 39:"My wife cried when she heard I would be dispatched. I could reject the dispatch, but I thought it wasn't right that a younger would be dispatched instead of me, so I decided to go. I will be back to fulfill the duty without accident."|
|Kyoto FD||40*||29–30 March||spraying water||||chosen members who have knowledge of nuclear or biochemical disaster|
|Kobe FD||53||31 March to 1 April||spraying water||||members who know how to deal with radiation or biochemical weapons|
|Japan Self-Defense Forces||spraying water, filming from helicopters||||using two helicopters to pour water while equipments were way poor at very beginning. Continuing to spray and send Fresh water.|
|U.S. Marine Corps||140||Chemical Biological Incident Response Force|
|Kandenko and subsidiaries||200||24 March||||Subsidiary of TEPCO|
|TEP Industry||never mentioned||Subsidiary of TEPCO|
|TEP Environment Engineering||never mentioned||Subsidiary of TEPCO|
|Tokyo Enesys||never mentioned||Subsidiary of TEPCO|
|"Cooporative Companies" of TEPCO||224||23 March||||Some companies, typically big companies, use the word cooperative companies, which they have contract with. Cooperative companies are third-party and mostly mid-to-small companies as Tokai Paintings which have dispatched 6 volunteers out of 80 employees (May 2009), while TEPCO employs 52,628 (end of 2009) including their subsidiaries. Some co-operative "company men" were only paid around 20,000 yen (US$236), and volunteered for the position for fear of losing their jobs. While others volunteered because they felt they were "the only workers that [could] do the job" and a shared a sense of solidarity.|
|Hazama Corporation||7*||15 March to 18 March||clear and repair roads at the scene|||
*: task finished
Over 20 workers were injured by 18 March. Three workers were exposed to radiation and two were rushed to a hospital with up to 180 mSv, which is less than the maximum 250 mSv that the government allowed for workers at the plant. Both workers, one in his twenties and one in his thirties, were from Kandenko and were regular workers at Fukushima II nuclear power plant. Another worker was from a contract company of Kandenko.
|U.S. Navy||preparing 2 ships with 1,100 tons of water each||||The U.S. government strongly recommended the Japanese government use fresh water because of accidents salt water could cause. The U.S. Navy supplied backup fresh water.|
Reaction of media and public
Media outlets lauded the remaining workers' bravery, and called them "heroes", and as a result they have become known in the media as the "Fukushima 50". France 24 called them "Japan's faceless heroes", British newspaper, The Guardian wrote: "Other nuclear power employees, as well as the wider population, can only look on in admiration". They have been compared to the Forty-seven Ronin. In Hong Kong, a group of netizens at HKGolden Forum dedicated Cantonese and Japanese lyrics based on a Cantopop song, entitled "福島烈士─向福島50人致敬" (Deadly Heroes of Fukushima - Tribute to the Fukushima Fifty), to the workers.
According to Robert Hetkämper, a correspondent for the German television network ARD, the label "Fukushima 50" was invented by a foreign newspaper, and then was imported by the Japanese media. The "Fukushima 50" would include engineers as well as unskilled workers, and there would be grounds to suspect that many workers were not really aware of the dangers of their assignment.
- Fukushima nuclear disaster
- Liquidator (Chernobyl) - name given to workers who were employed to contain the damage resulting from the Chernobyl disaster
- Lists of nuclear disasters and radioactive incidents
- Masao Yoshida (nuclear engineer)
- Radiation effects from Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster
- Timeline of the Fukushima I nuclear accidents#Tuesday, 15 March
- Nuclear labor issues
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- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/8408863/Japan-tsunami-Fukushima-Fifty-the-first-interview.html Japan tsunami: Fukushima Fifty, the first interview
- http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20110318p2a00m0na009000c.html TEPCO wanted to withdraw all nuclear plant workers 3 days after quake
- http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/31/world/asia/31workers.html?src=mv Workers Give Glimpse of Japan’s Nuclear Crisis
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- More volunteers 'prepared for death' at Fukushima
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- http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/03/31/japans-nuclear-rescuers-inevitable-die-weeks/ Japan's Nuclear Rescuers: 'Inevitable Some of Them May Die Within Weeks'
- Table 2-2 United States Environmental Protection Agency
- Bradsher, Keith; Tabuchi, Hiroko (16 March 2011), Asia, "Last Defense at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers", The New York Times (NY, USA)
- Gov't ups permissible radiation level, JP: NHK
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- "上限１００ミリシーベルト超被曝の東電作業員１人増え、計７人に" [one more TEPCO worker added, now seven workers exposed to radiation over 100 millisievert.]. Sankei Shimbun (in Japanese) (JP). 20 March 2011.
- "Fukushima 50 Stay Behind to Prevent Nuclear Meltdown.". Fox News. 16 March 2011. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
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- Winerman, Lea. "The 'Fukushima 50': Nuclear Workers Stay Behind to Brave Plant's Woes". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 16 March 2011.
- http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201104110137.html Heroes and realists found among the brave "Fukushima 700"
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- KATRANDJIAN, Olivia; Cho, Joohee; Chang, Juju (16 March 2011). "Japan's Fukushima 50: Heroes Who Volunteered to Stay Behind at Japan's Crippled Nuclear Plants". ABC News. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- KATRANDJIAN, OLIVIA (16 March 2011). "Japan's Fukushima 50: Heroes Who Volunteered to Stay Behind at Japan's Crippled Nuclear Plants". ABC News. Retrieved 17 March 2011.
- Lah, Kyung (1 June 2011). "Japanese seniors volunteer for Fukushima 'suicide corps'". CNN. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
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- "東日本大震災：福島第１原発事故 業界挙げ収束躍起 原子炉メーカー、作業員続々派遣" [East Japan Great Earthquake: Fukushima I N-plant accident: Whole nuclear industry commit to repair. Nuclear reactor maker dispatching its workers one after another]. Mainichi Shimbun (in Japanese) (JP). 25 March 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
- "千人以上が福島第１原発で稼働 メーカーやゼネコン派遣" [Over 1000 work at Fukushima I n-plant manufacturers and construction companies dispatch]. Kyodo News (in Japanese) (JP). 8 April 2011. Retrieved 8 April 2011.
- "日本の「切り札」東京消防庁ハイパーレスキュー部隊出動". Sports Hochi (in Japanese) (JP). 19 March 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
- "毎分３トン、１キロ先も送水…大阪市消防隊出動". Yomiuri Shimbun (in Japanese) (JP). 20 March 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
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- "東日本大震災：福島第１原発事故 名古屋市消防局、放水活動に隊員ら派遣 ／愛知" [East Japan Great Earthquake: Fukushima I N-Plant Accident: Nagoya FD dispatched firefighters for spraying water activity / Aichi]. Mainichi Shimbun Aichi local edition (in Japanese) (JP). 26 March 2011. Retrieved 26 March 2011.
- "京都市消防局の援助隊出発 「原発で冷静に任務」" [Supporting squad of Kyoto FD depart: "calmly fulfill our duty at the N-plant"]. Kyoto Shimbun (in Japan) (JP). 27 March 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
- "神戸市消防局 福島原発冷却活動に出発" [Kobe FD depart to cool Fukushima reactor]. Kobe Shimbun (in Japanese) (JP). 29 March 2011. Retrieved 8 April 2011.
- "作業員被ばく、１万倍の高濃度放射能どこから？". Yomiuri Shimbun (in Japanese) (JP). 25 March 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2011. "東京消防庁や自衛隊などが、２４日までに約４０５０トンの海水を放水(Tokyo FD and SDF has sprayed about 4050 tons of sea water by 24th)"
- Dvorak, Phred (24 March 2011). "Behind Reactor Battle, a Legion of Grunts". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
- http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2011/04/06/fukushima-construction-team-in-50s-cleared-the-way/ Fukushima: Construction Team, in 50s, Cleared the Way
- "被曝の関電工社員は２０代と３０代「こんな量を…」戸惑う担当者" [Exposed Kandenko workers 20s and 30s, "We haven't experienced this much radiator...", confused manager] (in Japanese). JP. 25 March 2011. Retrieved 25 March 2011.
- "Japan's faceless heroes". France24. 16 March 2011.
- McCurry, Justin (16 March 2011). "'Fukushima heroes' battle to tame nuclear plant as Japan watches". The Guardian (UK). Retrieved 16 March 2011.
- "Japan aktuell: Die 50 von Fukushima – die modernen 47 Ronin?". Spreadnews.de. DE. 19 March 2011. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- "港網民改歌向死士致敬 (HK Netizens Recomposes a Song in Tribute to Deadly Heroes)". hk.apple.nextmedia.com/. HK. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
- "向福島50人致敬！ 港「高登音樂台」自唱自製MV (Tribute to Fukushima 50! HKGolden Sings their Self-made MV)". nownews.com. TW. 21 March 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
- "[高登音樂台] 福島烈士 (向福島50人致意)([HKGolden] Fukushima heroes (Tribute to Fukushima 50))". 23 March 2011. Retrieved 28 March 2011.
- "Die "Fukushima 50" sind eine Legende" [The "Fukushima 50" are a legend] (in German). GER: ARD. 23 March 2011. Retrieved 23 March 2011.
- RTVE (7 September 2011). "Los "Héroes de Fukushima", Premio Príncipe de Asturias de la Concordia 2011". RTVE.es. Retrieved 7 September 2011.
- Fukushima heroes: Not afraid to die - from CBS News
- Japan hails the heroic 'Fukushima 50' - from BBC News
- Fukushima 50 A Facebook page to pay tribute to their heroic acts
- Hymn to The Fukushima 50 - Tribute A powerful and thought-provoking video paying tribute to the Fukushima Heroes