Fukushima update: Frustration, tragedy, heroism and spreading contamination
by Andrew Davies
April 1, 2011
Radiation exposure and harsh conditions continue to be a concern for the workers at the devastated Fukumashi Daiichi nuclear facility. Frustration and anger is also mounting among local communities outside the evacuation zone, with one local mayor even taking to YouTube to call for more supplies and better information about how to deal with the radiation threat.
From Kyodo news:
In the video, [Minamisoma Mayor] Sakurai notes that his people have suffered extensive damage from both the tsunami triggered by the earthquake and the subsequent nuclear disaster.
Besides lacking information from the government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., as well as manpower and supplies, he said, ”Many residents can’t secure any means of transportation” in the 20-30 km ring.
The bodies of hundreds killed by the earthquake and tsunami are believed to be still lying unrecovered the evacuation zone, creating anguish for relatives and a gruesome problem for relief workers:
The rescuers are now in a bind. Even if they retrieve the bodies, anyone who comes into contact with them risks being irradiated, too, whether they’re in the evacuation zone or not.
And if the bodies are cremated, the smoke could spread radioactive materials as well, the sources said. Even burial poses a problem. When the bodies decompose, they might contaminate the soil with radioactive materials.
Dosimeter shortage reported for Fukushima workers
It’s long been assumed that workers at the Daiichi plant are being exposed to high amounts of radiation. The latest news is that a shortage of personal dosimeters at the destroyed nuclear plant could mean that an accurate picture of how much radiation some workers are absorbing doesn’t exist. From the Japan Times:
The deadly earthquake and tsunami that shattered the northeastern coastline also destroyed thousands of the nuclear power plant’s supply of dosimeters, which each employee should carry to warn of excessive radiation.
This means workers were forced to share dosimeters while working, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said Thursday. Since dosimeter readings vary greatly by position, it is difficult for a single dosimeter to protect everyone in a group if one of them happens to wander away. How many workers were forced to share dosimeters was not immediately known.
More stories of confusion and heartbreaking heroism are also starting to emerge. From the 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.
And from CBS news:
Workers at Japan’s severely damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant believe they will likely die from the radiation exposure they have endured while trying to keep the nuclear reactors from melting down, the mother of one of the workers told Fox News.
“He told me they have accepted they will all probably die from radiation sickness in the short term or cancer in the long-term,” the mother of a 32-year-old worker said through a translator. She asked to remain anonymous because the plant workers and their families have been told not to speak to the media.
Ground and sea water contamination near the reactors
The water used during emergency cooling efforts has become highly radioactive, and is likely leaking into the ocean as well as creating a safety problem for workers. From the New York Times:
Workers prepared more tanks on Thursday to transfer radioactive water from the turbine buildings at Reactor Nos. 1, 2 and 3 to keep it from flowing into the ocean. But readings taken in the sea near the plant showed that levels of the radioactive isotope iodine 131 have continued to rise, testing at 4,385 times the statutory limit on Thursday, nearly four times higher than on Sunday, said Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director general of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. That rise increases the likelihood that contaminants from the plant are continuously leaking into the sea, he said.
That’s all for this update. Heading into the weekend, our thoughts remain with those in Japan.
Photo above: Control room for unit 1 of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant