Evacuation Ordered at Japan Plant After Radiation Burns

25 Mar

A Tokyo Electric Power Co. employee records reactor data in a control room, lit only by flashlights due to a power outage, for the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Station on March 23, 2011. Photo: Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency via Kyodo

JAPAN, March 25, 2011 (KATAKAMI.COM / BLOOMBERG) — Engineers at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant were evacuated from the third of its four damaged units after three men suffered radiation burns, the second retreat from the location in as many days, Bloomberg reported on Friday.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the plant located 220 kilometers (135 miles) north of Tokyo, had resumed efforts to restore electricity to the No. 3 reactor yesterday. The area was cleared of technicians the day before after smoke was detected. Tokyo Electric will stop workers from conducting similar work that led to yesterday’s incident, said Sakae Muto, a company vice president.

The injured workers were contaminated with up to 180 millisieverts of radiation, close to the recommended limit, as they were wading in water 30 centimeters (1 foot) deep while laying a power cable. Two of the workers were hospitalized with beta radiation burns on their feet after water had seeped into their boots.

“It’s not unexpected and it’s probably not a big setback,” said David Lochbaum, a nuclear safety engineer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a watchdog group. “They’ll try to protect the workers, but there will be continuing bumps in the road.”

Dangerous radiation levels, fires and explosions at four of the six reactors have hampered repair work since a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out electricity needed to operate cooling systems and prevent a meltdown.
Restore Power

“We’re trying to prevent further deterioration as well as restore the power,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said yesterday in Tokyo. “We cannot let our guard down.”

Samples taken yesterday indicated further spread of radioactivity above government limits. Tokyo officials found radioactive cesium above the government limit on komatsuna, a leafy vegetable similar to spinach, harvested in the city’s Edogawa ward yesterday, Japan’s health ministry said on its website. Samples of milk and six other vegetables from Tokyo farms were within radiation limits, the ministry said.

Tokyo authorities already were handing out bottled water after determining that tap water may be unsafe for babies. Radioactive iodine in tap water was above the government limit for infants today in Utsunomiya, a city about 80 miles southwest of the plant, Kyodo News reported.
Death Toll

Workers wearing protective suits work to restore electricity to the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Station in Fukushima, on March 18, 2011. Photo: Tokyo Electric Power Co. via Kyodo

The death toll from Japan’s worst postwar disaster climbed to 9,811 as of 9 p.m. yesterday, with 17,541 people missing, according to the National Police Agency in Tokyo. More than 250,000 people are living in 1,913 evacuation centers after the quake and tsunami devastated the country’s northern coastline.

Elevated iodine levels in water and food triggered bulk buying at supermarkets even as the government said that health risks are minimal. The Nikkei 225 (NKY) Stock Average decreased 0.2 percent yesterday following a 1.7 percent drop March 23 after Tokyo issued the water advisory.

“This is an evolving crisis and we don’t know whether the problem of radiation has reached its peak,” said Yoshimasa Maruyama, senior economist in Tokyo at Itochu Corp. (8001), an Osaka- based trading company that gets about 30 percent of its sales from food. “The challenge will be whether the government can continue to manage the situation to keep people from panicking.”

‘Never Restart’

At the Dai-Ichi plant lights were switched on at the No. 1 unit’s control room yesterday. Workers also made progress cooling the reactor following a spike in temperatures the previous day, Edano said. There were no signs of damage to the containment vessel, he said.

“They will never restart those first four units,” said Charles G. Pardee, chief operating officer of the power generation unit for Exelon Corp. (EXC), the largest U.S. nuclear- reactor owner. The reactors are beyond repair, given blast damage and corrosion from seawater pumped in to cool them, he said.

Tokyo Electric stopped spraying the No. 3 unit after the workers were evacuated and aims to resume work today, Hidehiko Nishiyama, spokesman for Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, told reporters.

Power is being supplied to the No. 5 reactor’s cooling system, Isao Shirai, a company official, said in Fukushima yesterday. That unit was shut down for maintenance when the quake hit and is considered less of a radiation threat.

Tap Water

Levels of iodine-131 in Tokyo’s tap water rose to 210 Becquerels per kilogram (2.2 pounds) three days ago, according to the Tokyo city government. The recommended limit is 300 for adults and 100 for infants. The level fell to 79 at a sampling site yesterday, Kyodo News reported.

The Health Ministry yesterday advised against eating leafy vegetables produced near the disaster site. The degree of contamination detected isn’t harmful, Edano said. While parents shouldn’t use tap water to mix baby formula, it can be drunk safely by adults and children, he said.

Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia banned imports of vegetables and fruits harvested in five quake-stricken prefectures in Japan. Singapore suspended imports of milk and milk products, seafood and meat from those areas of Japan. The U.S. authorized seizure of spinach from four prefectures and milk from Fukushima prefecture.

Changing weather systems will drive radiation from the Fukushima plant over the Pacific Ocean on March 26, Austria’s Meteorological and Geophysics Center reported, citing data from the United Nations nuclear-test ban treaty organization
Wind Forecasts

Wind will today carry the radionuclides for a “short while” inland, the center said on its website. Reactors at Fukushima may have released as much as 20 percent of the radioactive iodine and up to 60 percent of the radioactive cesium that resulted from the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, according to the report yesterday.

The maximum radiation reading reported so far at the nuclear plant is 500 millisieverts per hour, meaning a worker in the vicinity would receive the maximum allowed dose in 30 minutes. Tokyo Electric said 17 workers had received more than 100 millisieverts of radiation since the crisis started.   (*)
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