- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2011

SHIZUOKA, Japan | Emergency crews Thursday turned to firetrucks, water cannons and helicopters dropping enormous loads of water, as they raced to cool dangerously overheated fuel rods and restore power to a smoldering nuclear power plant.

By nightfall, they were still unsure if they had succeeded in preventing a nuclear catastrophe that could spread more radiation from the stricken Fukushima plant in northeast Japan.

“We are doing all we can, as we pray for the situation to improve,” said Teruaki Kobayashi, an official at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), which owns the Dai-ichi plant in Fukushima.

Tepco said it believed workers were making headway with efforts to complete an emergency power line to restart the plant’s own electric cooling systems, but the utility is not sure the cooling systems will still function. If they don’t, electricity won’t help.

A raging tsunami triggered by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake last week knocked out power at the plant. Without cooling systems, nuclear fuel rods overheated, explosions rocked several of the reactor units and radioactive gas escaped into the atmosphere.

GETTING OUT: People hoping for a flight out wait in long lines at the check-in counters at Narita International Airport near Tokyo on Thursday. Many companies urged their workers to leave the capital. The U.S. government also authorized evacuations of American citizens out of the country. (Bloomberg)
GETTING OUT: People hoping for a flight out wait in long lines ... more >

Many Japanese have accused Tepco of withholding information about the extent of the damage to four of the nuclear reactors at the plant, about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo. But workers risking their lives to save their fellow citizens are growing tired of the criticism.

One worker turned to the Internet to appeal for understanding.

“Please stop attacking us,” Michiko Otsuki wrote on a blog on the popular Japanese social networking site Mixi.

Ms. Otsuki and her co-workers stayed at their job sites after the twin disasters created the nuclear power crisis.

“We carried on working to restore the reactors from where we were, right by the sea, with the realization that this could be certain death,” she said.

“The machine that cools the reactor is just by the ocean, and it was wrecked by the tsunami. Everyone worked desperately to try to restore it. Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work.”

To save their fellow citizens, Tepco workers are risking exposure to high levels of radiation that could cause cancer, she said.

“Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away. There are people working to protect all of you, even in exchange for their own lives,” Ms. Otsuki wrote.

“People have been blaming Tepco. But the staff of Tepco has refused to flee, and [we] continue to work even at the peril of their own lives. Please stop attacking us,” she said.

Japanese officials said they probably would continue dousing the reactor units with massive amounts of water for another day.

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