Yesterday, reporters travelled for the first time to the centre of Japan's radiation catastrophe, the still-dangerous power plant devastated by March's earthquake and tsunami. This is what they saw.
About three dozen journalists sat on two buses. We wore protective suits, double gloves, double layers of clear plastic booties over shoes, hair covers, respirator masks, and carried radiation detectors. As we drove to the Fukushima plant, we passed through a police checkpoint, and saw three towns – Naraha, Tomioka, Okuma – empty of all inhabitants. Among the abandoned homes was a flower shop with plants, withered and dead, still on display.
As we approached the plant, radiation readings rose: 0.7 microsieverts per hour in Naraha, near the edge of the restricted zone. As we approached Okuma: 2.7ms. Then 4.1. It was rising quickly, the warning buzzer was going constantly. In Okuma, where it registered 6.7, the bus stopped so we could put on respirator masks. Every inch of our skin was now covered. We turned on to the road to the plant: 15ms. At the plant gate: 20. The buzzer became insistent.
The first things visible were six large cranes. Then we passed a field filled with blue tanks of contaminated water; then dozens of large, four-storey silver tanks of contaminated sea water. According to Tepco, which runs the plant, there are 90,000 tons of water stored here.