Spain awards "heroes" of Japan nuclear disaster

7th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

The "heroes of Fukushima" who braved high radiation to battle nuclear disaster in Japan won Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias Concord prize, the jury said Wednesday.

On March 11, Japan was hit by a triple disaster -- a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, a tsunami and the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl 25 years ago.

The towering wall of water battered cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, 220 kilometres (135 miles) northeast of Tokyo, triggering reactor meltdowns and spewing radiation into the environment.

The disaster forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people around a 20 kilometre radius and in some pockets beyond the plant, but selfless workers endured high doses of radiation to combat the crisis.

"This group of people represent the highest values of the human condition by trying to prevent, through their sacrifice, the nuclear disaster caused by the tsunami that struck Japan from multiplying its devastating effects, disregarding the grave consequences that this decision would have on their lives," the jury said in a statement.

"Their courageous and exemplary behaviour has earned them the international epithet 'heroes of Fukushima'," they said as they conferred the award, which dates back to 1981.

Despite major uncertainty, the Fukushima workers endured high radiation on rotating shifts with only a few hours' rest and limited supplies of food and drinking water, the jury said.

"As a result, many workers developed chronic pathologies such as arrhythmia and hyperventilationm," it said.

"Despite these grave consequences, they continued to participate in the efforts to regain control of the nuclear plant, aware of how essential their work was to prevent a catastrophe of even greater magnitude."

The jury identified three groups of people as the heroes of Fukushima:

-- The 50 volunteer employees of the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company;

-- The firefighters who worked to cool the reactors;

-- And the Japanese armed forces who dumped water on the reactors from helicopters, cordoned off an exclusion zone and evacuated people when the reactors were emitting very high doses of radiation.

"The behaviour of these people has also embodied the values most deeply rooted in Japanese society, such as the sense of duty, personal and family sacrifice for the greater good and dignity in the face of adversity, humility, generosity and courage," the jury said.

Some 800 workers evacuated the plant when disaster struck with 50 staying behind, earning the nickname "Fukushima Fifty".

But that number swelled by a few hundred, including technicians sent from partners such as Toshiba and Hitachi.

In the early days of the plant's rescue mission, Self-Defense Forces attempting to water-bomb the reactors gave up due to the high levels of radiation.

Winners of the Prince of Asturias are endowed with 50,000 euros, a sculpture, diploma and insignia. The awards are presented later in the year in Oviedo, northern Spain, at a ceremony chaired by Crown Prince Felipe, who is prince of Asturias.

© 2011 AFP

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