Thursday, March 17, 2011
180 heroes trying to save the world
by Richard Knox, npr:
There are 180 left at Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, fighting against lengthening odds to prevent large amounts of radiation from leaking out. Experts say they can only guess what radiation doses these workers are absorbing.
The anonymous workers who remain at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant — Japanese officials now say there are 180 — fight against lengthening odds to prevent large amounts of radiation from leaking out.
On Wednesday morning Japan time, fire broke out for the second time in the outer containment housing of the plant's No. 4 reactor. Firefighters were sent in to douse it — maximally hazardous duty.
Nuclear safety experts say they can only guess what radiation doses these workers are absorbing. Hundreds of other luckier colleagues have been sent home, out of harm's way.
"These are heroes," says Dr. Chandon Guha, a radiation expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Guha shuddered when he heard that radiation levels spiked to 400 milliSieverts per hour on Tuesday — and that was at the plant's main gate. Experts infer that exposures were higher inside.
Levels have dropped since, but what really matters is cumulative radiation doses — and nobody outside the plant, and presumably the Japanese government, knows what that might be adding up to.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says it's seeking more detail on "the status of all workers" at Fukushima. Meanwhile, U.S. experts fret. "It's a matter of great concern," says John F. Ahearn, a former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
And more than that, worker safety has become a central obstacle in the desperate attempts to control or stave off the meltdown, or further melting, of nuclear fuel rods at the deteriorating power plant. Read more>>