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What was happening inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant?
It is nearly impossible to think about the disaster of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (福島第一原子力発電所) without wondering what it must have been like inside the control center. The first 88 hours after the reactors went out of control were the most critical. It’s when the workers of Fukushima Daiichi met the devil of cataclysm face-to-face.
Now for the first time ever, the public will be able to go inside the control room of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in a documentary drama, Meltdown – The Fateful 88 Hours (“Meltdown”), a NHK Documentary premiering March 11th broadcast nationally on Link TV and KCET Southern California.
Over 500 people directly involved in the crisis over the past five years were interviewed prior to making the film. These are personal experiences of a heart-stopping endangerment that few people will ever experience. But, the whole world stopped, watched, and wondered.
Filmed in two parts, Meltdown takes the viewer into the heart and soul of nuclear power, how it works, how it breaks down. Over time, as the film progresses, the nuclear reactors take on the character of a mythical creature that overpowers with a mindset of its own. After all, nuclear fission has its own life cycle, relentlessly splitting atoms, even as humans flip an off switch. The atom is not a force to be reckoned with by mere mortals, unless perfectly in-tuned to its intensity. This cautionary message comes thru in the film, as if seated in the control room.
Meltdown brings to center stage the enormity, the mystery, and foreboding imagery of nuclear power. Paradoxically, whilst it quietly serves a positive function for society, it engenders a feeling of darkness that is difficult to understand or accept without trepidation. In part, this is because connotations surrounding the nuclear fission process, with its intense heat, bring forth emotions of deep anxiety and apprehension. All of these traits are boldly realized within the confines of the control room in Meltdown.
Within the first nine hours, the workers at the plant know a meltdown is underway. The containment vessel pressure in Reactor No. 1 had risen beyond 600kPa. This was more pressure than the vessel could withstand. It was then that the workers experienced visions of Armageddon for all of eastern Japan. In their words: “I was praying to God. I was ready to die. It was like a war zone.”
Similar to director Ron Howard’s film Apollo 13’s aborted mission to the moon because of an unexpected explosion on board the Apollo spacecraft, Meltdown details the excruciating interplay between human and machine as one attempts to tame the other. Still, it’s living life on the edge of death, as minutes stretch into hours, but somehow time is lost, a mindlessness of the corporeal whilst enraptured in a vivid astuteness of the spiritual. Thereby, films about real life disasters bring the viewer in touch with a reality that they know but don’t comprehend. The magic of film brings forth that comprehension.
Similar to the Tom Hanks character in Apollo 13, working with mission control to “craft by hand” a solution to something that had never happened before, the men of Fukushima are confronted with unforeseeable problems never before realized with a nuclear reactor. No other nuclear power plant in history had deteriorated so quickly, as its automatic functionality fails at its most crucial moments.
It’s moments like that when the workers “become one” with the nuclear containment vessel like never before dressed in protective whites wearing oxygen masks and tight-fitting gloves to enter the behemoth, knowing radiation levels are deadly dangerous, knowing their time is short to mechanically accomplish, by hand, what the behemoth failed to do. Like NASA instructing the Tom Hanks character in Apollo 13 how to configure a makeshift device to save his life, the workers of Meltdown enter the nuclear containment vessel searching for a hand-operated vent valve to release radioactive pressure from within the monster towering above. But, time is short as radiation levels within the vessel are sizzling high with the workers exposed to “annual allowable limits of radiation exposure” within minutes rather than years.
Even though TEPCO workers manage to open the valves to “vent” Reactor No. 1, still within 24 hours of the earthquake and tsunami, the roof of Reactor No. 1 blows off in a massive hydrogen explosion. “The ground became a source of radiation after the explosion,” as one incident cascades into another, like falling dominoes, the fail-safe structures that stood tall for 40-years providing over one million people electricity, suddenly crumbles, as if unglued like a tinker-toy broken apart.
The film brings to life not only the overwhelming predominance of the elusive atom over humankind’s frail capabilities when confronted with the unimaginable, but it also brings to the screen beyond belief human imagination that fights back, time and again in the face of complete disaster.
The film’s final voiceover makes two separate and distinct statements that cannot help but leave viewers of Meltdown in a state of contemplation of a human value system, our probity, and a strange way of economic life that engenders so many beautiful wonders as well as heartrending defeats.
The Final Voiceovers:
“But, even after the 88 hour battle, workers could not stop the emission of radioactive substances. The plant continued to release radiation.”
“The event of Fukushima raises a vital question for all humankind. Now that the once unimaginable has occurred, will we ever be able to once again believe that nuclear power is under our control?”
Meltdown – The Fateful 88 Hours premieres Friday, March 11th at 7 pm ET/PT on Link TV (DirecTV 375 and DISH 9410) immediately followed by Meltdown-The Fateful 88 Hours, Part 2 Friday, Mar 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT
Listen to Robert Hunziker on this week’s CounterPunch Radio.