The Real Story of the Fukushima 50 Starts to Emerge

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As the Fukushima nuclear disaster unfolded over the last few weeks, a small group of heroic figures emerged in media coverage: the workers battling to keep the plant from melting down. While company and government executives came off looking bad, the bravery of the workers who became known as the Fukushima 50 was unassailable, and confirmed what everyone wants to believe about the strength of the human spirit when confronted with a horrific and terrifying task.

But there was always something about that narrative which was a little too clean. It's not that the workers aren't courageous. But the magical media bubble that came to surround them had a Jessica Lynch-like intensity. The story became societal wish-fulfillment more than reality. Now the real story is beginning to come out in bits and pieces, as we can read in today's New York Times:

Many of them -- especially the small number charged with approaching damaged reactors and exposing themselves to unusually high doses of radiation -- are viewed as heroes, preventing the world's second-worst nuclear calamity from becoming even more dire.

But unlike their bosses, who appear daily in blue work coats to apologize to the public and explain why the company has not yet succeeded in taming the reactors, the front-line workers have remained almost entirely anonymous.

In the interviews and in some e-mail and published blog items, several line workers expressed frustration at the slow pace of the recovery efforts, sometimes conflicting orders from their bosses and unavoidable hurdles like damaged roads.

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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