Workers ‘Were Dropping Like Flies’ Cleaning Up Fukushima

Heroic risks of struggle to clean up Fukushima (Irish Times, February 21, 2012):

We are told to wear our full-face masks for the climax of the visit – a tour of the six reactors. Every inch of our bodies is covered and even in the subzero temperatures of Fukushima in February, it is unbearably hot. Thousands of men worked through last year’s summer heat of over 30 degrees in this protective gear, struggling to clear debris from the quake and tsunami and bring water to the reactors. “They were dropping like flies in the heat,” said one worker who spoke anonymously. “But they just had to keep going. They had no choice because no one else could do it.”

“The worst time was when the radiation was 250 Milisieverts (per year – the maximum, temporary government limit) and we couldn’t find people to do the work,” explains Kazuhiro Sakamoto, an onsite subcontractor. “We could only work in two-minute busts, when we were extracting cesium from contaminated water.”

Some of that work is clear onsite. The concrete building housing reactor 1, which was blown apart in the first explosion on March 12th, is now completely covered with a tarpaulin, a sort of giant condom designed to contain its radioactivity. As our bus drives slowly by the building, the beeping dosimeters climb to 100 microsieverts an hour. But as the most badly damaged reactor three into sight, its mess of tangled metal and steel gives off a startling reading of 1,500 microsieverts. Its cargo of lethal fuel includes plutonium and the roof of the building housing the reactor was blown off in the second explosion. “It’s still too dangerous for workers to enter reactor number three,” admits engineer Yasuki Hibi.

We are told to wear our full-face masks for the climax of the visit – a tour of the six reactors. Every inch of our bodies is covered and even in the subzero temperatures of Fukushima in February, it is unbearably hot. Thousands of men worked through last year’s summer heat of over 30 degrees in this protective gear, struggling to clear debris from the quake and tsunami and bring water to the reactors. “They were dropping like flies in the heat,” said one worker who spoke anonymously. “But they just had to keep going. They had no choice because no one else could do it.”

“The worst time was when the radiation was 250 Milisieverts (per year – the maximum, temporary government limit) and we couldn’t find people to do the work,” explains Kazuhiro Sakamoto, an onsite subcontractor. “We could only work in two-minute busts, when we were extracting cesium from contaminated water.”

Some of that work is clear onsite. The concrete building housing reactor 1, which was blown apart in the first explosion on March 12th, is now completely covered with a tarpaulin, a sort of giant condom designed to contain its radioactivity. As our bus drives slowly by the building, the beeping dosimeters climb to 100 microsieverts an hour. But as the most badly damaged reactor three into sight, its mess of tangled metal and steel gives off a startling reading of 1,500 microsieverts. Its cargo of lethal fuel includes plutonium and the roof of the building housing the reactor was blown off in the second explosion. “It’s still too dangerous for workers to enter reactor number three,” admits engineer Yasuki Hibi.

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