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‘Fukushima 50’ risk lives to prevent meltdown

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2014 at 1:53 am

‘Fukushima 50’ risk lives to prevent meltdown

Joe O’Connor · Mar. 16, 2011 | Last Updated: Mar. 17, 2011 6:49 AM ET

We do not know their names, their faces, their families or their personal stories. Nobody really does. They are strangers, in a faraway land, doing the unthinkable.

In Japan they have a name: The Fukushima 50. A coterie of nuclear plant employees — some reports indicate 50, others suggest four working rotations of 50 — who stayed behind while 700 of their co-workers were evacuated from the stricken Fukushima-Daiichi facility on the Japanese coast.

Five have been killed. Two are missing. Twenty-one have been injured in a struggle where, in the words of Japan’s Prime Minister Naoto Kan, “retreat is unthinkable.”

The men understand the stakes. They know there is no turning back. One worker told a departing colleague he was prepared to die — that it was his job. Another informed his wife he wouldn’t be coming home anytime soon.

And so they battle on, a weary bunch of managers, operators, technicians, soldiers, firemen, amid rumours, worst-case scenarios and startling television footage.

They are mid- and low-level employees. They are men with no names, cast into extraordinary circumstances, battling fires, explosions, the threat of explosion and the invisible menace: dangerously high levels of radiation no protective suit can deflect, and one that threatens to seep into the atmosphere if they fail.

David Richardson, a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, regards the Fukushima 50 as heroes. And he is right. He has studied the long-term risks for nuclear plant workers in the United States. He knows the facts, and he speaks in the language of millisieverts (mSv), the unit of measure for radiation dose rates.

The typical American worker at the Department of Energy complex is exposed to 50 to 100 mSv over the course of their entire working career. Dosage rates at Fukushima have been measured at tens to several hundred mSv per hour.

Japanese officials were reporting radiation levels at the plant entrance ranging from 400 to 1,500 mSv per hour on Wednesday.

“They are in places where the men’s radiation exposure can exceed what a typical worker at a nuclear facility would accrue over their entire career in the span of 20 or 30 minutes,” Prof. Richardson says.

They are canaries in a nuclear cage-match, and only one winner will emerge. It is man against man’s most deadly creation in a contest Mother Nature — at her worst — kicked off.

Fragile, human and impossibly brave, the Fukushima 50 could be foredoomed to die for their noble cause. If not on the front lines then years from now, in a hospital bed, with bodies racked by pain and wrecked by cancer.

It is a fate Andriy Chudinov understands. The 64-year-old has his own nuclear horror story to tell, involving the nightmare at Chernobyl. A senior reactor operator, Mr. Chudinov was among the first on the scene after a series of explosions rocked the infamous atomic facility on Ukraine’s northern border with Belarus, blowing off the roof and releasing a great plume of radioactivity into the atmosphere.

Thirty-one died from the explosions. Thousands more have died since from cancers associated with the disaster. They were soldiers, carpenters — ordinary people — who galloped into the breach back in April 1986 unafraid, and ill-equipped, and often unaware of the terrible physical reckoning to come.

“The [Fukushima 50] are good guys,” says Mr. Chudinov, who suffers from a blood disorder he blames on radiation exposure.

“They have had it even worse than we did. They had a tsunami first, and now there are several reactors with problems. That’s a nightmare for any atomic worker.”

Protective measures are better now than they were for the emergency workers in Chernobyl. Fukushima’s skeleton crew is highly monitored. Their exposure time in the most radioactive areas is limited and they have retreated, for a spell, when the reactor got too hot.

Protective suits are designed to ward off radioactive dust. They are also impossibly uncomfortable. Imagine running a marathon — in a raincoat, with limited visibility and compromised manual dexterity. Workers wear pajamas and full coveralls beneath the protective garb. They breathe through a respirator, and work with three layers of gloves on their hands.

But the real danger, beyond the fires and the explosions, is a high dose of gamma radiation. And the suits do not stop gamma rays, radioactive waves — imagine an X-ray — that ripple through the body, breaking apart molecules, damaging DNA and conceivably triggering a domino effect that could lead to a terminal diagnosis five years down the line.

A potential widow’s wait can be brief. Five men have died already. Or else loss is something that can unfold slowly, and be filled by doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy sessions and alternative treatments.

It is an awful fate for a hero. It is an awful thing marching off to war, knowing there is no retreat.

“It was a question of duty,” Andriy Chudinov, the Chernobyl veteran says. “We didn’t even think of not going.

“I don’t know why I survived. Radiation reacts differently on different people.”


BIGGEST dogs of the world

In Uncategorized on July 10, 2014 at 3:03 am

unique dog breeds of the world

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