Reports: Trying Conditions, Courageous Acts At Japanese Nuclear Power Plant In new reports, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Japanese government highlight the hazardous working conditions, lack of communication and last-ditch efforts by workers to contain meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Early confusion among the leadership was also a problem.
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Reports: Why Things Fell Apart At Fukushima Plant

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Reports: Why Things Fell Apart At Fukushima Plant

Reports: Why Things Fell Apart At Fukushima Plant

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And for more on that, we're joined by NPR's Richard Harris. So glad you're in the studio, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS: Good to be here.

NORRIS: So what do these reports tell us about the catastrophic string of events at that nuclear power station?

HARRIS: Well, there are two reports, one by the Japanese government and one by an IAEA team that visited Japan in May. But both tell similar stories of why things fell apart at the plant. First and foremost, as we well know, the plants were not designed to cope with a 40-foot-tall tsunami. But once that wave hit, working conditions at the plant were clearly miserable.

HARRIS: And it goes on and on and on, talking about lack of communication ability between the on-site Emergency Control Center and workers throughout the site. For example, they did have like one phone line to the control rooms. But that was about it.

NORRIS: So one of the questions, how did those miserable working conditions contribute to the multiple meltdowns at the plant?

HARRIS: And the first reactor actually started melting down within a few hours of the tsunami. And its core was actually mostly melted and sitting at the bottom of the reactor vessel in about five hours. The other two reactors also melted down. It took them a little bit longer, though.

NORRIS: Richard, what do the reports have to say about the way the Japanese government handled the disaster?

HARRIS: But even so, the report says the people at the plant at least seemed to be making good decisions. The IAEA did question Japan's decisions to have some nearby residents stay inside instead of evacuating them altogether. And the Japanese government itself acknowledges that they didn't do a good job getting help from other countries, or telling the local community what was going on.

NORRIS: And as to those residents who live around the nuclear power plant, what seems to be the impact of the accident on human health, at least as far as we know right now?

HARRIS: But let's remember, the standards could leave some people still at increased risk for cancer. You have a relatively small dose, or medium-sized dose, spread over a large number of people, you could end up with a few extra cancers. But that said, if there is an excess of cancer it will pale in comparison to the, what, 15,000-plus people who were actually killed by the tsunami.

NORRIS: That's Richard Harris. Richard, thank you very much.

HARRIS: It's my pleasure.

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