Fukushima workers on kamikaze mission
Technicians battling to avert nuclear disaster ‘like suicide fighters in a war’ says radiation expert
It is becoming apparent that the small band of technicians working inside the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to save Japan from a full-scale nuclear disaster are embarked on a kamikaze mission.
In tweets and emails, family members have questioned whether they will come out alive and, if they do, whether they will be permanently harmed. Keiichi Nakagaw, a radiation expert at the University of Tokyo Hospital, said: "I don’t know any other way to say it - this is like suicide fighters in a war."
All the technicians are said to have volunteered and some are rumoured to be retirees who believe they will have died of natural causes before any radiation-induced cancer sets in.
Their identities have so far been kept a closely guarded secret but as family members discuss their predicament, it seems inevitable names will emerge.
"My dad went to the nuclear plant, I never heard my mother cry so hard," wrote one Twitter user. "People are struggling at the plant, sacrificing themselves to protect you. Please dad come back alive."
They have become known as the Fukushima 50 though actually they are a team of around 180, working in shifts to prevent the nuclear power plant from meltdown. While local people living within a 15-mile radius have been evacuated, the furthest these technicians have been pulled back is about 500 yards, during a temporary radiation spike on March 16.
So far, five of the workers are reported to have died since the magnitude 9 earthquake and ensuing 10m-high tsunami hit the plant on March 11. Two more are missing, and around 22 have been injured.
Reports suggest that they are mainly technicians who know the plant inside-out. It is claimed that none of them were ordered by the nuclear plant’s owners, Tepco, to stay: they all volunteered.
The risks are enormous. Two days ago, the Japanese government raised the legal limit for radiation exposure to 100 millisieverts (mSv) an hour, and 250 millisieverts a year. This new limit is more than 12 times what is legal for nuclear workers to be exposed to in Britain.
The highest level of radiation recorded at Fukushima so far is around 400 mSv. According to the World Nuclear Association: "Above about 100 mSv, the probability of cancer (rather than the severity of illness) increases with dose. 50 mSv is, conservatively, the lowest dose at which there is any evidence of cancer being caused in adults."
Wearing breathing apparatus, goggles and duct-taped protective white suits, the workers sleep and eat in shifts in a small decontaminated room. Working in shifts of 50, they are equipped with devices to monitor how long they are exposed, but the flimsy suits are poorly designed to block harmful gamma radiation.
"My father is still working at the plant," said a worker's daughter in an e-mail. "They are running out of food... we think conditions are really tough. He says he’s accepted his fate, much like a death sentence".
The situation is so grave that Tepco is now reportedly considering encasing the reactorin concrete to contain radiation. The approach was last used to deal with the exploded Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine in 1986.
One of the Tepco personnel evacuated from the plant, Michiko Otsuki, wrote on her blog: "The machine that cools the reactor is just by the ocean, and it was wrecked by the tsunami. Everyone worked desperately to try and restore it. Fighting fatigue and empty stomachs, we dragged ourselves back to work.
"There are many who haven't gotten in touch with their family members, but are facing the present situation and working hard. Please remember that. Everyone at the power plant is battling on, without running away." ·
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