After being exposed to high levels of radiation, two workers at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (photo, from lemonde.fr), who were trying to restore the cooling system in reactor 3, have been taken to the hospital.
Several workers have been hurt on the site that was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March, which reveals the scale of the task facing them.
Three workers have been injured while they were laying cables in the turbine area of reactor 3 and their feet touched radiation-contaminated water, said Japan’s nuclear safety agency, adding that they were exposed to radiation levels of 170-180 millisieverts.
The maximum level permitted for workers on the site of 250 millisieverts.
“Although they wore protective clothing, the contaminated water seeped in and their legs were exposed to radiation,” said a spokesman.
“Direct exposure to radiation usually leads to inflammation and so that’s why they were sent to the hospital to be treated.”
The condition of the injured workers was not immediately known.
The situation was “very regrettable”, said Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano.
During an average year, most people are exposed to 2 millisieverts, and 100 millisieverts is regarded as the lowest level at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident.
The power plant’s cooling systems has been restored.
Even though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) observed some “positive developments” at the site, it said that the situation was still “of serious concern”.
A 20km exclusion zone was declared by the government around the nuclear power plant, and tens of thousands of people have been evacuated.
In order to minimise exposure, those living up to 30km away have been told to stay indoors.
And because of contamination fears, people living in Fukushima prefecture have been told not to eat 11 types of green leafy vegetables grown locally, and local producers have been ordered not to send the goods to the market.
On Wednesday, people living in the country’s capital were warned not to give tap water to babies less than a year old due to levels of radioactive iodine – which can cause thyroid cancer – being twice the recommended safe level in some areas of the city. (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk)
Children would have to drink a lot of it before it harmed them, explained officials. And even though they urged people not to panic-buy, by Thursday morning supermarket shelves were reported to have been cleared of bottled water.
“Customers ask us for water. But there’s nothing we can do,” Masayoshi Kasahara, a supermarket worker in Tokyo told Reuters.
“We are asking for more deliveries but we don’t know when the next shipment will come.”
The municipal authorities are distributing thousands of bottles of water to households with infants.
Although radiation levels have now fallen in Tokyo’s water supply, they remain high in other areas of northern Japan.
Radiation levels above safety norms were reported on Thursday in the water supply of the nearby city of Kawaguchi, Saitama prefecture.
And Japan’s neighbours are also getting more and more worried.
On Wednesday the US and Hong Kong restricted Japanese food imports, and France asked the European Union to do the same.
They were followed the next day by Russia, Australia, Canada, the Philippines and Singapore.
Officials said that 9,523 people had died because of the 8.9-magnitude quake and the tsunami it provoked, with another 16,094 people listed as missing.
5,700 deaths have been reported in the prefecture of Miyagi, 3,000 bodies have been found in Iwate prefecture, and 776 in Fukushima.
At least 18,000 houses were destroyed and 130,000 damaged, leaving more than 200,000 people in emergency shelters.
Rebuilding Japan after this twin disaster will cost about 25 trillion yen ($309bn), said the government.