Plant workers face grueling schedule

March 29, 2011 at 7:38 AM
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TOKYO, March 29 (UPI) -- With the barest of necessities, workers at Japan's crippled nuclear plant are waging a battle to prevent a meltdown in face of constant threat to themselves.

What the workers are confronted with at the Fukushima plant is Japan's worst nuclear crisis since World War II, set off by the 9-magnitude earthquake and towering Pacific Ocean tsunami tidal waves March 11 that also killed tens of thousands of people, left a similar number missing and inflicted economic damage running into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

The workers, now numbering about 400, struggle under severe working conditions with no running water, extremely limited food rations, one blanket per person, and no proper place to sleep at the facility where radiation contamination has become a major threat, Kazuma Yokota, a Japanese nuclear official who spent five days at the plant as an observer, told the Los Angeles Times.

It is a constant race against time to perform risky tasks including connecting electric cables to bring power to the damaged nuclear reactors, pumping radioactive water from flooded basements, repairing machinery and checking equipment and spraying water to keep pools holding spent nuclear fuel rods from boiling.

Yokota said the workers breathe through respirators and dress in white suits with head-to-toe hoods to protect them from exposure, the Times reported.

"I don't think the workers have the energy they need to work under these extremely tough conditions," Yokota said.

"Some have expressed concern about not being able to change their underwear," he said.

There was no immediate response from Tokyo Electric Power, the plant's operator, to Yokota's comments, the report said.

Concern for the workers has heightened since three of them were exposed to highly radioactive water in the No. 3 reactor last week, the report said.

The company Monday changed its earlier announcement of radiation levels 10 million times the normal levels to 100,000 times the norm at a reactor.

"These things are an indication that they don't have good control on radiation protection," Edwin Lyman at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told the Times. "If you can't make accurate measurements, if you ignore alarms … it's a sign of chaos, and it means that there is pressure to keep going."

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