Frontline: Inside Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown
Airs Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV
Originally published February 27, 2012 at 11:55 a.m., updated September 30, 2013 at 9:32 a.m.
FRONTLINE continues its investigation of nuclear safety with an unprecedented account of the crisis inside the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex after a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011.
For Fukushima Workers, Cancer Isn’t the Only Health Threat by Sarah Childress
Fukushima Radiation Estimate Doubles, But Cancer Risk Lower Than Expected by Jason M. Breslow
Fukushima Reactor Damage May Be Worse Than Previously Thought by Bill Rockwood
Voices From the Inside: Fukushima’s Workers Speak by Gretchen Gavett
How Do You Clean Up After a Nuclear Disaster? by Gretchen Gavett
“The Workers We Spoke to Thought They Were Going to Die” by Gretchen Gavett
“The Fate of Japan Hangs in the Balance” by Gretchen Gavett
One Pilot’s Dangerous Mission to Stop Fukushima’s Nuclear Meltdown by Gretchen Gavett
Then and Now: Photos of Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami Devastation by Gretchen Gavett
“In the Information Age, They Have No Information” by Gretchen Gavett
With exclusive eyewitness testimony from key figures in the drama — including the Japanese prime minister and senior executives at the power company Tepco — FRONTLINE tells the story of the workers struggling frantically to reconnect power inside the plant’s pitch-dark and highly radioactive reactor buildings; the nuclear experts and officials in the prime minister’s office fighting to get information as the crisis spiraled out of control; and the plant manager who disobeyed his executives’ orders when he thought it would save the lives of his workers.
The story profiles the Japanese soldiers and firefighters drafted to cool the reactors, who were wounded when the reactor housings exploded; and the families, living near the nuclear plant, who unknowingly fled in the same direction as the radioactive plume, exposing themselves to dangerously high radiation levels.
“When I heard the diesel generators were lost,” reactor inspector Takashi Sato tells FRONTLINE, “I couldn’t square that with reality. I was stunned.” As the fuel started to melt, a special group of soldiers tried to inject water directly into the core of one of the reactors. “Just as we were about to get out of the car to connect the hose,” Col. Shinji Iwakuma says, “it exploded. Radioactive matter was leaking in through the bindings of our masks due to the blast. Our dosimeter alarms were ringing constantly.”
Fukushima residents were making their own life-and-death choices. Farmer Norio Kimura, whose father, wife and youngest daughter were missing, had to decide whether to abandon his search in the rubble for family members or risk exposure to radiation for himself and his surviving daughter. “I now thought it was dangerous to stay. Iodine tablets were being handed out in the village,” he tells FRONTLINE. “I had to take her somewhere safe. We had to get far away from the nuclear plant.”
This episode originally aired in 2012.