Shutdown of Fukushima Reactors Is Ahead of Schedule

Assignment: Fukushima

Photo: Etsuko Yokoyama

If you're a habitué of IEEE Spectrum's website, then you've noticed that we've posted rather a lot of stories and updates on the disaster at the Fukushima Dai¿ichi nuclear plant. Although nearly every Spectrum staffer has contributed to our coverage, it has been John Boyd [above], our man in Japan, whose reports have enabled us to break as many stories as we have.

You'll find his latest article on the effort to bring the Fukushima Dai¿ichi reactors under control in the Update section of this issue. And behind that article are the more than 50 online reports he has filed since the crisis began on 11 March.

Born in England, Boyd arrived in Japan in 1972 during what was supposed to be an around-the-world hitchhike. He never left. Living in Japan for the past four decades has inured him to earthquakes. But he could tell that the one this past March was different.

"At first I thought it was a huge windstorm because the power lines were swinging so much," he says. The buildings in his neighborhood of greater Tokyo, were shaking so violently that some people sought safety in a nearby field, only to discover that the field itself was bucking and heaving.

Amazingly, Boyd's apartment building withstood it all. After searching for a friend, he plunked down in front of the TV just in time to see a tsunami devour the northeast coast.

Although his own city was spared the tsunami's ravages, life was no picnic. "The first few weeks it was tough, because there was a run on food, and bottled water wasn't available because of panic over radiation," he says. Train service was halted, aftershocks rattled coastal areas, and rolling blackouts stifled Tokyo. "But news was coming in all the time," Boyd marvels.

He says he wasn't immediately aware of the scope of this story. But when he filed his first report, he already seemed to know the direction it was going to take. It was prefaced by a note that "things are likely to get worse"—a true British understatement if ever there was one.