When city officials, reeling from the massive tsunami that ravaged Japan, realized their Fukushima Daiichi power plant was facing a potential melt down, they were at a loss. The surrounding villages were under an evacuation order—the plant was about to vent radioactive vapor to avoid an infrastructure collapse and the resulting radiation would be extremely hazardous to human health—yet someone had to stay behind to operate the machinery. Who could they possibly find to make that kind of sacrifice?
They didn’t need to find anyone because 200 brave souls volunteered. They worked in shifts of 50 at a time, earning them the moniker “The Fukushima 50.” At the time there was no way of knowing just how much danger they were in. Temperatures soared inside the plant while rain brought radioactive particles from the air down on their heads. Inside, it was a battle—with the heat, the darkness, and time—as the technicians consulted blueprints in their heads to find vents and pipes. They crawled through tunnels wearing oxygen tanks and Hazmat suits that may or may not have been protecting them from the deadly radiation.
Fortunately, it appears the Fukushima volunteers managed to avoid lethal doses of radiation during their heroic mission. But if they hadn’t been there to vent the tanks, clean the pipes, and prevent disaster, who knows how many thousands of people would be dying from radiation sickness in Japan now. Of course, the Fukushima Daiichi disaster was only the beginning. Though it has been over a year since the disaster, Japan is still in great need. Debris still fills the streets in many parts of the country, while schools, homes and businesses remain boarded up or in dangerous disrepair. International volunteers are taking notice.
There are several voluntour companies that are actively seeking new volunteers to travel to northern Japan to help in the recovery. There are opportunities to help with wreckage cleanup and house or business building. There are also opportunities to work with children who lost their parents to the wave. Two organizations to check out include: H.I.S. International Tours and KIE Kinetsu International. Both of these organizations provides translators for international volunteers.
A while back I wrote a blog post about altruism and whether or not it matters, or even exists. When I read about the Fukushima 50, those 200 selfless people who sacrificed themselves so the rest of us could live, it makes me rethink everything I thought I knew about people and human nature. Thank you, Fukushima 50, for restoring my faith in bravery and courage.