'Suicide fighters': Japan Plant Workers Injured, Exposed - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

'Suicide Fighters': Japan Plant Workers Injured, Exposed

Key details:

  • Water dropped by helicopters seems to blow away in wind
  • At least 19 workers hurt, 20 exposed to radiation
  • Four of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant's six reactors have faced serious crises
  • U.S. says Americans should consider leaving Japan
  • Aid workers, victims, regional officials appeal for help
  • More than 5,300 officially listed as dead, but toll expected to top 10,000

UPDATE FROM MSNBC>>> Japan tried high-pressure water cannons, fire trucks and even helicopters that dropped batches of seawater in increasingly frantic attempts Thursday to cool an overheated nuclear complex as U.S. officials warned the situation was deteriorating.

Two Japanese military CH-47 Chinook helicopters began dumping seawater on the complex's damaged Unit 3 at 9:48 a.m. (8:48 p.m. EDT), defense ministry spokeswoman Kazumi Toyama said. The choppers dumped at least four loads on the reactor in just the first 10 minutes, though television footage showed much of it appearing to disperse in the wind.

Chopper crews flew missions of about 40 minutes each to limit their radiation exposure, passing over the reactor with loads of about 2,000 gallons of water.

The dousing is aimed at cooling the Unit 3 reactor, as well as replenishing water in that unit's cooling pool, where used fuel rods are stored, Toyama said. The plant's owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), said earlier that pool was nearly empty, which would cause the rods to overheat and emit even more radiation.

Along with the helicopter water drops, military vehicles designed to extinguish fires at plane crashes were being used to spray the crippled Unit 3, military spokesman Mitsuru Yamazaki said. The high-pressure sprayers were to allow emergency workers to get water into the damaged unit while staying safely back from areas deemed to have too much radiation.

But special police units trying to use water cannons — normally used to quell rioters — failed in their attempt to cool the unit when the water failed to reach its target from safe distances, said Yasuhiro Hashimoto, a spokesman for the Nuclear And Industrial Safety Agency.

Officials at TEPCO said they believed they were making headway in staving off a catastrophe both with the spraying and with efforts to complete an emergency power line to restart the plant's own cooling systems.

The interim power line would be a temporary but "reliable" way to cool down the reactors and storage pools, said Teruaki Kobayashi, a facilities management official at TEPCO.

"This is a first step toward recovery," he said.

Japan will continue dropping water from the air on the Unit 3 reactor on Friday, the country's nuclear safety agency said on Thursday night.

Four of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant's six reactors have faced serious crises involving fires, explosions, damage to the structures housing reactor cores, partial meltdowns or rising temperatures in the pools used to store spent nuclear fuel. Officials also recently announced that temperatures are rising in the spent fuel pools of the last two reactors.

The troubles at the nuclear complex were set in motion by last week's 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and destroyed backup generators needed for the reactors' cooling systems. That added a nuclear crisis on top of twin natural disasters that likely killed well more than 10,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Gregory Jaczko said at a congressional hearing in Washington that all the water was gone from unit No. 4's spent fuel pool. Jaczko said anyone who gets close to the plant could face potentially lethal doses of radiation.

"We believe radiation levels are extremely high," he said.

TEPCO executives said Thursday that they believed the rods in that pool were covered with water, but an official with Japan's nuclear safety agency later expressed skepticism about that and moved closer to the U.S. position.

"Considering the amount of radiation released in the area, the fuel rods are more likely to be exposed than to be covered," Yuichi Sato said.

The top U.S. nuclear regulatory official gave a far bleaker assessment of the crisis than the Japanese, and the U.S. ambassador warned U.S. citizens within 50 miles of the plant on the northeast coast to leave the area or at least remain indoors.

The Japanese government said it had no plans to expand its mandatory, 12-mile exclusion zone around the plant along the northeastern coast, while also urging people within 20 miles to stay inside.

IAEA chief heads to Japan
The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said he would like to visit the site on Thursday as he departed for Tokyo to glean details about the escalating crisis.

"The situation continues to be very serious," International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano told reporters at Vienna airport as he left with a small group of nuclear experts.

"We wish to go to the site, but we will discuss it upon our arrival. "This is a very serious accident but Japan is not alone, the international community is standing by Japan," he said.

Amano said he would ask Japanese authorities to improve communications with the Vienna-based IAEA, which has been struggling to keep up with fast-developing events because of a lack of timely and detailed data from Japan.

 

 

Key Details:

  • 19 workers hurt, 20 exposed to radiation
  • Water dropped by helicopters seems to blow away in wind
  • Large-scale power outage could hit Tokyo
  • U.S. says Americans should consider leaving Japan
  • Aid workers, victims, regional officials appeal for help
  • More than 14,000 dead or missing after quake, tsunami
  • Many Japanese people said to be leaving Tokyo

At least 19 workers at the stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant in Japan have been injured, more than 20 exposed to radiation and two have gone missing during the battle to prevent a nuclear disaster, officials said Thursday.

The top U.S. nuclear regulator has warned that emergency staff at the stricken plant would face potentially "lethal doses" of radiation "in a very short space of time," while a Japanese expert described them as being "like suicide fighters in a war."

In addition to the employees battling the apparent meltdown on the site, military helicopters were dumping loads of seawater to try to cool overheated uranium fuel that may be on the verge of spewing out more radiation, a day after this was said to be too dangerous because of the levels of radiation.

Crews were flying missions of only 40 minutes each to limit their exposure. Television pictures showed four loads of water being dropped, but much of the water appeared to have been blown over a wide area.

The Kyodo news agency reported that Japan's Self-Defense Forces had begun Thursday to use high pressure hoses from fire trucks to try to cool down fuel rods at the plant's No. 3 reactor.

It said a subcontractor had suffered broken legs, two employees of power company TEPCO had sustained minor injuries and another contractor was in an unknown condition in hospital.

Two people were missing and two had been

Under the heading "radiological contamination," the statement one worker had received exposure and was taken to "an offsite center."

It said 17 workers had got radioactive material on their faces, but were not taken to hospital because the exposure was low. Two police officers exposed to radiation were decontaminated and authorities were investigating the exposure of a number of firefighters.

Despite the dangers, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported staff from TEPCO and other industry firms were volunteering to join in efforts to stabilize the reactors.

'Never been more proud'
AFP reported a Twitter message by a woman who said her father, just six months from retirement, had decided to offer his help.

"suddenly taken ill." It also said four people suffered minor injuries in a March 11 explosion and 11 people were hurt in another explosion on March 14.

"I fought back tears when I heard father, who is to retire in half a year, volunteered to go," the message read.

"He said 'The future of nuclear power generation depends on how we'll cope with this. I'll go with a sense of mission'... I've never been more proud of him," she added.

A core team of 180 emergency workers has been at the forefront of the struggle at the plant, rotating in and out of the complex to try to reduce their radiation exposure.

A number of commentators have spelled out the potential dangers.

The top U.S. nuclear regulator, Gregory Jaczko, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, warned that the cooling pool for spent fuel rods at one reactor, No. 4, may have run dry and that another was leaking.

"We believe that around the reactor site there are high levels of radiation," he told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

"It would be very difficult for emergency workers to get near the reactors. The doses they could experience would potentially be lethal doses in a very short period of time," he added.

Keiichi Nakagawa, associate professor of the Department of Radiology at University of Tokyo Hospital, put it more starkly.  "I don't know any other way to say it, but this is like suicide fighters in a war," he said.

Europe's energy commissioner Günther Oettinger said Wednesday, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, that he could not "exclude the worst in hours and days to come."

"There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well-chosen. Practically everything is out of control," he said.

U.S. officials were taking no chances, with the State Department warning U.S. citizens to consider leaving the country , and offering voluntary evacuation to family members and dependents of U.S. personnel in the cities of Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya. 

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