On July 16, shaken by a massive earthquake originating in a fault line that apparently runs directly underneath it, a power generator of one of the reactors of the world's largest nuclear power plant, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, burst into flame and started billowing black smoke. Meanwhile, inside the fuel storage pool of another reactor, waves one metre high sloshed around and overflowed a one-metre-high rail, releasing water containing a small amount of nuclear material into the ocean.
One of the first on the scene of the accident was Diet Member Kondo Masamichi of the Social Democratic Party, who posted the following report of his experience (see the original post for many on-site photos):
We first stopped by the Kashiwazaki branch office of the prefectural Development and Promotion Bureau, and then went to the city hall. The city hall, where the disaster countermeasures office is located, was in such a chaos with city employees and citizens.
And then at 4.30pm, I found out that Prime Minister Abe [Shinzo] was arriving by helicopter at the Satogaike baseball field and that he was heading to the Kashiwazaki nuclear power plant. Right away, we decided to go to the nuclear power plant as well, and we headed to the power plant and asked them to let us in.
We entered the grounds of the nuclear power plant.
What we saw there were roads deformed like waves and building foundations that had been lifted and warped. The white lines that had been drawn on the roads were twisted.
There was no reason to believe that, sitting right next to this, the nuclear reactors would have been left in an undamaged state. In the [earlier] Chuetsu earthquake, the seven reactors were not turned off and operated right through the earthquake. This time, everything was turned off. This is only natural.
At the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Power Plant, reactors 1, 5, and 6, which were undergoing periodic inspection at the time, and reactors 2, 3, 4, and 7, which were in operation, were shut down automatically.
Employees of TEPCO discovered that a fire was burning in the electrical transformer adjacent to the building housing the turbine of reactor number 3. Operations to put out the fire reportedly began about an hour later, and the fire was eventually put out.
In other words, for about two hours black smoke was being expelled [into the atmosphere].
There is no fire-fighting team [at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa] as there are usually at chemical plants such as petroleum plants. This is horrible. Coordination with the local city fire department was late, and on top of this, the fire engine itself arrived late because it was caught in a traffic jam. The Japanese administration was also very angry about this issue.
The cause of the fire remains entirely unclear.
The late start of firefighting operations has become a target of criticism.
At any rate, this is the first time in the history of earthquakes in this country that, directly after an earthquake, fire and smoke start coming out of a nuclear power plant, and it has become a terribly sensational scene.
With the guidance of Mr. Takemoto, I was led through a major traffic jam, along small streets, and made it to the nuclear power plant shortly before the prime minister arrived. Moments later, the prime minister arrived by bus, greeted by a group of LDP members from the prefectural assembly at a location from which the fire at the electrical transformer could be seen. The Minister of State for Disaster Management, and personnel from related government ministries, were also there together. The mayor and director of the power plant met with them and indicated the location of the fire while explaining [the situation].
The director [of the nuclear power plant] emphasized that “the fire is not inside the building housing the nuclear power reactor”, “there is no radiation leak”, and “there is nothing wrong with the safety equipment”. The prime minister hardly said anything as he listened to the explanation, which went on for only about 4-5 minutes, answering things like: “I am relieved to hear that.”
After this, the group with the prime minister went into the city of Kashiwazaki.
In order to pull this off in front of the mass media, [the prime minister] had to come from Tokyo by helicopter. This way, he was able to be the first to make it to the nuclear power plant. This was the shocking scene of “black smoke and fire” that [was broadcast] on TV. In any case, it appeared as though the prime minister made an unwavering appeal for crisis response.
However, this was subsequently overturned.
There were cracks like this one inside the grounds of the nuclear power plant as well.
The acceleration of the earthquake this time was apparently much greater than the estimates at the time of design [of the power plant].
Blogger mata also offers some pointed criticism of the government's handling of the crisis:
I listen to the news related the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant that has been transmitted in the context of this earthquake, and the unbelievable sloppiness and irresponsible handling makes more than angry, it makes me sick.
I honestly think we would have been better off asking elementary and junior high school students to do the job.
If we got them to debate this at a school meeting, I am sure that they would arrive at the conclusion that the job that was done was not worth the money [that was paid for it].
・Miscalculation of the external radiation leak (you shouldn't put idiots in charge of this)
・The loss of earthquake observation data
・Other problems that have not yet been brought to light and facts that are still being covered up
That we are all paying a lot of money in electricity bills to support the high incomes of people who do nothing but this kind of terrible work — sorry, but this doesn't add up, in my mind.
Silencing one's own conscience and telling lies, hiding [the reality of the situation] for dozens of years for fear of being discovered — they do these kinds of things and still manage to sleep well every night.
Until every employee working under the director of TEPCO drinks this water and breathes in this smoke and says, “SEE! it's okay!”, I will not believe them at all.
To put it the other way around, if they do this then I will definitely believe them and not make any complaints.
I think that most people living in Tokyo are able to use their head and respond in a flexible way [to this situation]. At least it seems that it will not be possible to run Kashiwazaki-Kariwa this summer, so it seems like a good opportunity to see if there will really be problems in the case of a power shortage.
Continuing to operate these nuclear weapons — which they call nuclear power plants — with the dangerous capacity to blow up at any time, is an overwhelming loss for electricity companies as well as people involved in related industries.