Column: Trenches and Tanks

by Naoki Tahara, Editorial Writer

The mannequins in local department stores are already sporting attire for fall and winter, showing off the colors and patterns of the seasons. Although fashion is a fickle thing, with styles frequently coming and going, some perennial items have been lifted from military uniforms. One of these is the trench coat.

The trench coat first appeared in World War I, about 100 years ago. Trenches are long, deep holes dug into the ground and soldiers who fought from these muddy trenches on the front lines wore these coats. To break enemy trenches, the tank was introduced, unleashing hellish battles.

Battles over trenches continue at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant. In this context, trenches are underground passages where there are high levels of contaminated water. To prevent this water from reaching the sea, it must be extracted from the trenches. But no one can predict whether this laborious operation will be successful. Moreover, contaminated water held in tanks has begun to leak out.

The day before yesterday, a funeral was held for Masao Yoshida. Mr. Yoshida was the chief of the crippled plant when the disaster first struck and even stood up to his superiors to lead efforts to contain the damage. He died of cancer last month. A portrait of him at the funeral, in his blue work clothes, bears a smile, as if Mr. Yoshida is still rallying his colleagues in their ongoing struggles.

Even today, haunted by the horror of invisible radiation, workers at the site wear protective gear and will continue to do so until their battles have ended. I hope to never see this gear, though, as a new fashion on the street.

(Originally published on August 25, 2013)