Fukushima Workers Who Fled May Have Received Garbled Orders, Reports Say via New York Times

TOKYO — About 650 workers who fled the stricken Fukushima Daiichi power plant without permission at the darkest moment of the 2011 nuclear accident may have left because they thought they had been ordered to evacuate and were not knowingly violating orders, according to new details of the episode reported in recent days by Japanese news media.

While the new reports carry much of the same information as the earlier Asahi account, they differ on the key point of whether the plant’s workers who fled on March 15 were consciously violating Mr. Yoshida’s order for them to stay where they were. The Asahi report quoted Mr. Yoshida as saying he had never given the order to withdraw, indicating that the evacuation went against his instructions.

However, additional excerpts from Mr. Yoshida’s testimony cited in the new reports suggest a communication failure, not a willful violation of orders by the employees.

“It was like the telephone game,” in which a message gets distorted as it is whispered from person to person, Mr. Yoshida is quoted as saying in the new reports. “I said, ‘If we go, should it be to 2F?’ while the people who heard me gave the instruction to the drivers to go to Fukushima Daini.”

Mr. Yoshida was referring to the drivers of buses that were being brought to the damaged plant for a possible evacuation. Those buses helped carry the fleeing workers to the unharmed Fukushima Daini nuclear plant, also known as 2F, despite the fact that the evacuation order was never given.

The new excerpts also reveal that Mr. Yoshida feared that the accident could grow into a broader disaster that might have threatened all of eastern Japan, a region that is usually taken as including Tokyo, about 150 miles south of the destroyed plant.

“Our image was a catastrophe for eastern Japan,” Mr. Yoshida said in the testimony, according to Kyodo. “I thought we were really dead.”

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