Japan’s "Fukushima heroes" battle nuclear crisis in anonymity

* Admiration and sympathy for workers at Fukushima plant

* Photos show them struggling in the dark to control
reactors

By Elaine Lies

March 25 (Reuters) – Radiation injuries to three workers at
Japan’s stricken nuclear plant have put a focus once again on
the unnamed and largely faceless corps of men risking their
lives to prevent further catastrophe for their countrymen.

First dubbed the “Fukushima Fifty”, their number has now
risen to more than 700 workers toiling inside an evacuation zone
at the facility on Japan’s northeast coast that was battered on
March 11 by an earthquake and then a tsunami.

Feted by foreign media and on social networks, the men have
also won quieter admiration and sympathy from Japanese.

“Their job was in that sort of workplace, and I think they
always knew that this might be their destiny, that at some point
they might have to fight this kind of thing,” said Yasuchika
Honda, a 27-year-old advertising executive in Tokyo.

“They’re trying very hard and I’m very grateful.”

Three workers replacing a cable at the plant, run by Tokyo
Electric Power Co (TEPCO) , were exposed to radiation
10,000 times higher than expected when they stood in
contaminated water this week.

Though encased in protective suits, it turned out two of the
men had boots too short to stop water seeping in.

In a rare glimpse into conditions inside the reactors,
photos released two weeks into the crisis showed shadowy figures
working in near-darkness to restore the power and cooling
systems, the gloom illuminated by a few weak lights.

“They’re all the real Samurai,” said one admirer on a
Facebook page dedicated to the Fukushima workers and mainly
containing messages from outside Japan.

“Let us pray for your healthy and safe return to your homes.
May God help all of you in each single minute when you are still
fighting desperately for your country and people. Thank you,
Fukushima 50,” commented another person on Facebook.

“LIKE A WAR”

The only public appearance by anyone who has been inside the
plant was a news conference by firefighters earlier this week.
They cried with relief and spoke of their commitment to duty.

Most of the workers are too busy to go home.

The wife of one told the daily Yomiuri Shimbun that she had
not seen her husband since the day of the quake and tsunami, and
had only spoken with him briefly several times.

“It’s like a war here,” she quoted him as saying. Asked if
he had been exposed to radiation, he told her: “A little.”

The lack of effusive praise or public fuss over them inside
Japan may be due to cultural norms that emphasize the group over
individuals.

Sociology professor Takashi Miyajima, of Hosei University
near Tokyo, said praise in Japan was generally reserved for the
whole team — and only when they finally succeed.

Reservations about the role of plant operator TEPCO could
also be a factor.

“Among the mainstream media there’s also a growing sense of
how responsible TEPCO is for this whole mess, and this is making
them reluctant to praise anybody involved in cleaning it up,”
Miyajima said.

“After all, these workers are mainly TEPCO people or from
TEPCO affiliates.”

Foreign media have reported the Twitter comments by one of
the men’s daughters who said he had volunteered despite being
just six months from retirement.

“My eyes are filling up with tears,” posted @NamicoAoto.

“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.”

(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

Japan’s "Fukushima heroes" battle nuclear crisis in anonymity