TOKYO – A new report says Japan's tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant was so unprepared for the disaster that workers had to bring protective gear and an emergency manual from distant buildings and borrow equipment from a contractor.
The report, released Saturday by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., is based on interviews of workers and plant data. It portrays chaos amid the desperate and ultimately unsuccessful battle to protect the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant from meltdown, and shows that workers struggled with unfamiliar equipment and fear of radiation exposure.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed the plant's power and crucial cooling systems, causing three reactor cores to melt and causing several explosions.
TEPCO has been criticized for dragging its feet on venting and sea water cooling — the two crucial steps that experts say could have mitigated the damage. Company officials have said the tsunami created obstacles that were impossible to anticipate. An investigation by an independent panel is pending.
The report revealed insufficient preparations at the plant that TEPCO hadn't previously acknowledged. It said plant workers had a disaster drill just a week before the tsunami and "everyone was familiar with emergency exits," but it apparently did not help them cope with the crisis.
When the Unit 1 reactor lost cooling functions two hours after the quake, workers tried to pump in fresh water through a fire pump, but it was broken.
A fire engine at the plant couldn't reach the unit because the tsunami left a huge tank blocking the driveway. Workers destroyed a power-operated gate to bring in the engine that arrived at the unit hours later. It was early morning when they finally started pumping water into the reactor — but the core had already melted by then.
They eventually ran out of fresh water and had to switch to sea water, which meant scrapping the reactor.
Other workers were tasked with releasing pressure from Unit 1's containment vessel to avoid an explosion. But first they had to get the manual, which was not in the control room but in a separate office building at the plant. Aftershocks struck as they retrieved it.