The Fukushima 50

As we approach the one year anniversary of the 4th strongest earthquake in recorded history, I am hearing stories about the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. More specifically, the events following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and related series of nuclear accidents last March 2011. In one story, the “Fukushima 50” was mentioned in passing.  This was a small group of volunteers who stayed behind to do what they could to bring the crisis under control. Actually there were 200 volunteers who worked in shifts of 50 people.  These brave, self-sacrificing people, who largely remained unknown, sparked a flame of curiosity in me, so I did a little research.

The daughter of one of these men stated, “I heard that he volunteered even though he will be retiring in just half a year and I my eyes are filling up with tears…. At home, he doesn’t seem like someone who could handle big jobs…but today, I was really proud of him. And I pray for his safe return.”

These were highly experienced technicians who understood how the plant worked. They could troubleshoot and resolve a wide range of problems. It was risky, not only for them, but for the future of the power plant. If this small group of highly experienced workers were to die as a result of exposure, the best people for solving the myriad problems facing this nuke would be gone. Consequences would be dire and long-lasting.

Sometimes compared to the fire fighters who rushed into the World Trade Center on 9/11, the Fukushima 50 were lionized by the worldwide press. March 11 (the day of the earthquake and ensuing disaster) is referred to as 3/11 in Japan. These men worked with little food or sleep for days on end to restore the plant to a stable condition and save their country and their loved ones. Most of them had no idea if they had family to go home to or if they’d been washed away by the tsunami. However, they continued to work on, around the clock.

Astonishingly, these men are now caught in terrible predicament, somewhat like the veterans who returned from the Vietnam War. Heroes who were treated badly by those who owed them so much. According to a recent article in Newsweek:

As the nation prepares for the first anniversary of the tsunami, the Japanese are preoccupied with radiation fears, the anti-nuclear debate, and bashing the operator of the Fukushima plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), for its response to the crisis. The workers who risked their lives remain faceless and nameless. Increasingly, they are also voiceless, because they fear being associated with the now-vilified power company if they speak about what went on in the plant. Six workers spoke to Newsweek on the condition that their real names not be used so they could provide a rare firsthand account of the fear and courage of these men…

As is the case with so many stories about heroes, the truth is not so glorious. Some men responded out of a sense of duty, some out of fear of shame, some were pressured or even tricked and others just needed the money. As time went by, more people showed up beyond the initial 200. These men were exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation and are still waiting for the results of the tests run on them to determine how badly they were damaged.

Once the imminent meltdown was controlled, the world lost interest but the clean-up was difficult and protracted. Today, these heroes live in fear. Fear that they will be vilified by their fellow countrymen and fear that their lives will be cut short by cancer, if they live long enough to develop it. In the Chernobyl disaster, some workers died within a matter of hours. In Japan, we do not know the extent to which these workers were exposed.

In closing, I will relate a few comments from an American worker at the Fukushima plant who was within minutes of getting off work when the earthquake hit. He worked on the turbine deck, which I can relate to. Last year, I was on the turbine deck at the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Rochester, NY picking up some extra money. He was the first person to feel the earthquake among his co-workers. The rest did not notice it at first but the earthquake increased in intensity and continued to rumble about 6 minutes. The spinning blades inside the turbines started to give off a “demonic scream” as they lightly touched the inside of the turbine and became increasingly deformed. A turbine deck is an enormous open room so that anything that falls, falls from a great distance. It is one of the worst places to be in an earthquake. The lights went out and they were trapped in total darkness with objects crashing around them.

On LinkedIn this week, I have been involved in a discussion on a crisis of a different sort.  Companies are using Facebook to size up potential candidates, but they are going beyond what they can get from a casual Google search. There are horror stories from MSN about government agencies, colleges and even employers who are insisting that prospective employees or students give them their Facebook password before making the offer. They are snooping into your private life, as chronicled on Facebook, to see if they want your kind around. I had one MIS professor tell me that companies can get into your Facebook account without your password.  “Even a so-so MIS or Computer Science undergrad can hack in in 30 minutes.”

There is an Onion News Network video which pokes fun at this, but what they have to say is disturbingly on target.

Facebook has actually become a treasure trove of information about you when it falls into the hands of a prospective employer. Forbes has carried a couple of articles on employers using Facebook to size you up as a good worker. Supposedly, they have moved beyond just checking for drug references or complaints about your boss. They can tell if you are going to fit in and how hard you are likely to work.

The living victims of the Fukushima disaster are dealing with their crisis by keeping quiet. They are staying as invisible as possible. In your case, as a job seeker, you can not afford to do that. This is not the first time I have alerted people that prospective employers are looking at their Facebook accounts. The reaction is almost always hostile with most people dismissing the warning as rubbish, but the evidence is mounting. The workers on the Fukushima turbine deck could not afford to simply hunker down. To survive, they had to take action. They were guided out by a dim sliver of light coming from under the door which took them out of the cavernous room. Doing nothing is not the answer. You must educate yourself about what employers are looking for when they look at your social media accounts and fill your accounts with the right sort of information.

For the Fukushima 50 interview, I refer you to the Daily Beast:

Good Luck and Godspeed.

James Snider
Business Development Director
817 203 4944

About jamessnider

James Snider is the Vice President of Business Development for Engstrom Trading, LLC. Engstrom imports products from Scandinavian countries and builds a market for them in the USA and Canada. View all posts by jamessnider

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