Workers on the Front Lines in Fukushima

The most chilling scenes in the movie, ‘Silkwood’ show nuclear plant workers being hustled off by faceless guards in hazard suits as alarms blare, then brutally hosed down to try to wash away the contamination.

This time it’s not a movie.

The Japan Times reports on the workers in the disabled nuclear plants, struggling without adequate food, sleep or protective equipment…

[Banri] Kaieda, deputy head of the nuclear disaster task force set up by the government and Tepco, [Tokyo Electric Power Company] said around 500 to 600 people were at one point lodging in a building on the plant’s premises and that was “not a situation in which minimum sleep and food could be ensured.”

His remarks came after an official in the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reported that workers were only eating two meals a day, such as crackers and dried rice, and sleeping in conference rooms and hallways in the building.

The official stayed at the nuclear plant for five days through Saturday to check on progress in the ongoing operations.

Kaieda said he was also told that not all workers had been equipped with lead sheeting to shield them from possible radiation contamination on the floors while sleeping.

Reuters Press is more graphic…

(Reuters) – Biscuits and vegetable juice for breakfast, no lunch, and a packet of rice with canned fish or meat for supper. No showers, no beds and virtually never a change of clothes.

That’s the grim lot of hundreds of workers toiling in perilous conditions to avert a catastrophic nuclear meltdown at Japan’s earthquake-wrecked Fukushima power plant.

“This is similar to a war zone and things need to be addressed, including providing proper back-up for the workers who are under immense stress,” said Hirotada Hirose, professor of disaster psychology at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.

“If this continues, productivity and morale will fall and workers will become likely to make mistakes. We cannot afford that,” Hirose told Reuters.

And this, from The Guardian, is like bad science fiction…

Japanese authorities are considering plans to collect and freeze cells from engineers and water cannon operators at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in case they are exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.

The proposal has been drawn up as a precautionary measure that could potentially save the lives of workers if they receive high doses of radiation while battling to bring the damaged nuclear reactors under control.

High levels of radiation can cause serious illness and death from bone marrow failure, but the condition can be treated if patients are seen quickly enough and given transplants of blood stem cells collected before they are exposed.

The procedure requires workers to take a drug for several days that causes their bone marrow to release stem cells into the blood. They are then hooked up to a machine through which their blood is passed and filtered to extract the stem cells.

The procedure is already used to treat cancer patients whose bone marrow is destroyed by chemo- or radiotherapy.

On the low-tech side, high boots might have saved three workers from radiation burns–from AFP

OSAKA — Japan ordered the operator of a stricken nuclear plant to step up safety Friday after three workers in ill-fitting shoes suffered burns when they sloshed through highly radioactive water.

The trio, aged in their 20s and 30s, were placing electric cables in a basement as part of efforts to rebuild cooling systems at the quake and tsunami damaged reactor three to prevent high-level radiation from spewing out.

Two of the men, who were employed by a subcontractor, were hospitalised after suffering radiation burns from beta rays, which are powerful enough to transform a person’s DNA makeup and cause potential cancer and death.

The word, ‘subcontractor’ is interesting. Who are these workers, and who is responsible for their safety? Here’s from The Irish Times…

Subcontractors to several companies connected to the plant have reportedly been offering 80,000- 100,000 yen a day (€690-€862) to join the operation, according to one former plant worker.

“They know it’s dangerous so they have to pay up to 20 times what they usually do,” said Shingo Kanno, a seasonal farmer and construction worker who was offered work at the complex by a subcontractor but refused. “My wife and family are against it because it’s so dangerous,” he said.

The men inside the complex have been dubbed “samurai” and “suicide” squads in the popular press. They have been joined by self-defence force troops and an elite team of fire and emergency service workers, who have used hoses, water canon and helicopters in a bid to cool the reactors.

With all the tech-talk, and assurances of ‘no harm to the public’, workers are living in a bunker, without enough to eat to keep up their strength for their days of hard physical labor and extreme stress. Sleeping on mats without pillows. Getting injured for lack of a pair of boots.

There’s a truth about human nature here. We’re smart but not as smart as we think.

I hope the courage of these workers will be rewarded by success in getting the crisis under control. When that happens, I hope that their sacrifice will not be brushed off with pious sentiment, and that the uncontrolled news leak will continue to breach containment.

UPDATE: Another power plant employee was hospitalized today from AP, via highplainsdem at Democratic Underground…

TOKYO — The president of the beleaguered Tokyo utility company that owns the tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant leaking radiation in the northeast has been hospitalized with high blood pressure, the company said Wednesday.

Masataka Shimizu, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., had not been seen for nearly two weeks after appearing at the news conference two days after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that hobbled the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.


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