Japan Encourages a Wider Evacuation From Reactor Area
By DAVID JOLLY, HIROKO TABUCHI and KEITH BRADSHER
Published: March 25, 2011
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Wally Santana/Associated Press
The United States has recommended that its citizens stay at least 50 miles away.
Speaking to a national audience at a news conference Friday night two weeks after the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the devastating tsunami that followed it, Prime Minister Naoto Kan dodged a reporter’s question about whether the government was ordering a full evacuation, saying officials were simply following the recommendation of the Japan Nuclear Safety Commission.
“The situation still requires caution,” Mr. Kan, grave and tired-looking, told the nation. “Our measures are aimed at preventing the circumstances from getting worse.”
“The state of the plant is still quite precarious,” he said. “We’re working hard to make sure it doesn’t get worse. We have to ensure there’s no further deterioration.”
In the latest setback in the effort to contain the nuclear crisis evidence emerged that the reactor vessel of the No. 3 unit may have been damaged, an official said Friday. The development, described at a news conference by Hidehiko Nishiyama, deputy director-general of the Japan Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, raises the possibility that radiation from the mixed oxides or mox fuel in the reactor — a combination of uranium and plutonium — could be released.
One sign that a breach may have occurred in the reactor vessel, Mr. Nishiyama said, took place on Thursday when workers who were trying to connect an electrical cable to a pump in a turbine building next to the reactor were injured when they stepped into water that was found to be significantly more radioactive than normal.
Two workers were burned when water poured over the top of their boots and down around their feet and ankles, Linda Gunter, a spokeswoman for the Tokyo Electric Power Company, said. She said workers on an earlier shift had no problem with low boots, but the water rose between shifts and the injured workers were unprepared for the deeper water. A third worker was wearing higher boots and did not suffer the same exposure.
Like the injured workers, many of those risking their lives are subcontractors of Tokyo Electric, paid a small daily wage for hours of work in dangerous conditions. In some cases they are poorly equipped and trained for their task.
A Japanese physicist, who asked not to be identified so as not to damage his relations with the establishment, said it was “ridiculous” that the workers had not been wearing full protective gear.
The National Institute of Radiological Sciences said that 3.9 million becquerels per square centimeter of radiation had been detected in the water that the three workers stepped in — 10,000 times the level normally seen in coolant water at the plant.
The injured workers’ dosimeters suggested exposure to 170 millisieverts of radiation. But the institute said that the actual amount of radiation the workers are thought to have been exposed to in the water is 2 to 6 sievert. Even 2 sievert is eight times the 250 millisievert annual exposure limit set for workers at Daiichi.Read More...