Online postings and emails from workers at Japan's nuclear power plants have provided glimpses into their largely unknown lives in the nearly three weeks since the country's devastating earthquake and tsunami.
In the handful of messages posted on social networking websites and obtained by media outlets, workers acknowledge that they might not survive efforts to prevent a meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant and ask readers to appreciate that trying to contain radiation leaking from the plant has prevented them from reconnecting with loved ones they haven't seen since the natural disaster hit.
"My town is gone," a worker named Emiko Ueno wrote in an email that The New York Times published in print editions Thursday. "My parents are still missing. I still cannot get in the area because of the evacuation order. I still have to work in such a mental state. This is my limit."
The Times reported that a manager for Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant's operator also known at Tepco, distributed Ueno's email among employees, writing at the top to "please think about what you can do for Fukushima after reading this e-mail."
It's probably a given that we employees are to handle the situation even if the consequences may be dire for us. So we are doing what we can as best as we can. We will be carrying a cross on our back for the rest of our lives... We are very sorry for the inconvenience we are causing because of the scheduled blackouts... We employees at TEPCO have not been able to make time to take care of our own health let alone check on our own families' safety.
The New Scientist also translated part of an email the Asahi Shimbun newspaper published Saturday from a 46-year-old woman who works at the nearby Fukushima Daini power plant that was less severely damaged in the disaster:
Most of the workers at both the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini power plants are local residents. Many of our homes have been washed away. I myself have been on duty at contingency planning headquarters since the earthquake hit. My own parents are missing. I do not know where they are. I have been wanting to go search for them, but my home that was washed away is in a mandatory evacuation area and I can't even enter the area. Even the Self Defense Forces will not go to search for them. My mental state has reached the absolute limit under these extreme work conditions. The Daini plant workers has been taking care of this plant and going out to support the Daiichi plant as well.
At least one worker has apparently shown regret for responding to criticism against Tepco. Michiko Otsuki removed a March 15 post from Japanese social networking site Mixi that defended the nuclear workers, the Times reported.
"The people working at these plants are fighting without running away," Otsuki wrote, according to the Guardian newspaper of London. "Please don't forget that there are people who are working to protect everyone's lives in exchange for their own."
The New Scientist published Thursday a different quote from Otsuki's post:
"I know that [TEPCO] is being heavily bashed for this accident, but we are not running away. We are the ones putting our lives on the line, so please don't criticise us."
She added: "We are really scared for our own lives doing this. Please don't forget that."