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Who are the Fukushima 50?

Online posts from families and colleagues pull back the curtain on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant workers whose heroism has inspired the nation.

March 17, 2011|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • Reactors nos. 3 and 4 are damaged at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility.
Reactors nos. 3 and 4 are damaged at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power… (EPA )

Who are the "Fukushima 50" -- the workers trying to take regain control of Japan's stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant?

Twitter messages and blog posts by the workers' families offer an inkling of the "Fukushima 50," so nicknamed because the 180 employees at the site work in 50-person shifts.

One of the workers is a veteran power plant worker, a 59-year-old who volunteered to take on the assignment, according to Jiji Press, a Japanese news wire service, quoting a woman who claimed to be his daughter on Twitter. The job puts him at risk of exposure to dangerous amounts of radiation that could cause death or lead to a higher risk of cancer.

Photos: Crisis continues in Japan

"I fought back tears when I heard that my father, who is to retire in six months, had volunteered," @NamicoAoto wrote. "At home, he doesn't seem like someone who could handle big jobs?but today, I was really proud of him," she wrote. "I pray for his safe return."

@nekkonekonyaa said her mother wept when her father left work to head to the nuclear plant. "Please dad come back alive," she said in her tweet.

Power plant employees were running out of food, read one e-mail from a worker's daughter.

"He says he's accepted his fate. Much like a death sentence," the e-mail said, which was read aloud on the national television network, NHK.

It has been reported that five employees of the operator of the nuclear power plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., known as TEPCO, have died and 22 have been injured since last week's massive earthquake and tsunami.

Michiko Otsuki, an employee who evacuated from Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) on Monday, expressed pride in the coworkers who stayed behind.

"The staff of TEPCO have refused to flee and continue to work even at the peril of their own lives. Please stop attacking us," Otsuki wrote on her blog, which has since been taken down but was reprinted by the Singapore newspaper Straits Times.

Otsuki said employees at the plant worked bravely after the magnitude 9 quake, after the plant lost power and alarms sounded.

"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," Otsuki wrote.

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

Otsuki apologized for the unfolding disaster.

"To all the residents [around the plant] who have been alarmed and worried, I am truly, deeply sorry," she wrote.

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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