A devastating tsunami, caused by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on March 11, washed over the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan and knocked out its emergency power systems, thus leading to a catastrophic loss of coolant and three core meltdowns. That is how the official story goes.
But did the earthquake, measuring a comparatively weak 6.4 on the Richter scale locally, cause fatal damage to already compromised cooling water pipes at Fukushima? According to The Independent newspaper, which spoke to several workers at the plant, serious damage, to piping and at least one of the reactors, occurred before the tsunami hit.
This matters because if the earthquake structurally compromised the plant and the safety of its nuclear fuel, then every similar reactor in earthquake-prone Japan may have to be shut down. It also highlights the potential for similar disasters around the world.
A maintenance engineer who was at the Fukushima complex on the day of the disaster said: “I personally saw pipes that had come apart and I assume that there were many more that had been broken throughout the plant. There’s no doubt that the earthquake did a lot of damage inside the plant… I also saw that part of the wall of the turbine building for reactor one had come away. That crack might have affected the reactor.”
Worker B said: “It felt like the earthquake hit in two waves, the first impact was so intense you could see the building shaking, the pipes buckling, and within minutes I saw pipes bursting. Some fell off the wall.
“Someone yelled that we all needed to evacuate. But I was severely alarmed because as I was leaving I was told and I could see that several pipes had cracked open, including what I believe were cold water supply pipes. That would mean that coolant couldn’t get to the reactor core. If you can’t sufficiently get the coolant to the core, it melts down.”
Worker C said: “I was in a building nearby when the earthquake shook. After the second shockwave hit, I heard a loud explosion. I looked out the window and I could see white smoke coming from reactor one. I thought to myself, ‘This is the end.’”
When Worker C got to the office 15 minutes later his supervisor immediately ordered everyone to evacuate, explaining, “There’s been an explosion of some gas tanks in reactor one, probably the oxygen tanks. In addition to this there has been some structural damage, pipes have burst, meltdown is possible. Please take shelter immediately.”
Reports that damage occurred to the reactors before the tsunami struck are given further credence by radiation data. Bloomberg reported that a radiation alarm went off about a mile from the plant at 3.29pm on March 11, before the tsunami hit.
However, the official line from Tokyo Electric Power, the plant operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, remains that major buildings and equipment at the facility were not directly damaged by the March 11 earthquake.