TOKYO — At the most dire moment of the Fukushima nuclear crisis three years ago, hundreds of panicked employees abandoned the damaged plant despite being ordered to remain on hand for last-ditch efforts to regain control of its runaway reactors, according to a previously undisclosed record of the accident that was reported Tuesday by a major Japanese newspaper.
The newspaper, The Asahi Shimbun, said that the incident was described by Masao Yoshida, the manager of the Fukushima Daiichi plant at the time of the accident, in a series of interviews conducted by government investigators several months after the March 2011 disaster. The newspaper said it had obtained a copy of a 400-page transcript of the interviews, which had been referred to in government accounts of the accident but had never been released in its entirety.
Such a transcript could represent the only testimony of the accident left by Mr. Yoshida, who died last year of cancer at the age of 58. Mr. Yoshida is widely viewed in Japan as one of the disaster’s few heroes for preventing the crisis from spinning out of control by defying an order to stop pouring seawater on the overheating reactors.
The transcript offers a chilling glimpse of the panic gripping workers on March 15, when the plant appeared to teeter on the brink of catastrophe four days after a huge earthquake and tsunami knocked out vital cooling systems. Mr. Yoshida told investigators that 650 workers and even midlevel managers fled to another nearby nuclear plant, leaving just him and 68 other employees behind to try to contain a possible fuel-core meltdown at a reactor whose building had just exploded. That reactor was one of three that were eventually determined to have melted down during the accident.
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