When will we know all there is to know about the real risks posed by the Japanese nuclear disaster?
Radiation levels at Japan nuclear plant reach new highs
TOKYO — As radiation levels at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant reached a new high Sunday, workers contended with dark, steamy conditions in their efforts to repair the facility’s cooling system and stave off a full-blown nuclear meltdown. Wearing respirators, face masks and bulky suits, they fought to reconnect cables and restore power to motor pumps the size of automobiles.
Leaked water sampled from one unit Sunday had 100,000 times the radioactivity of normal background levels, although the Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the plant, first calculated an even higher, erroneous, figure it didn’t correct for hours.
Tepco apologized Sunday night when it realized the mistake; it had initially reported radiation levels in the leaked water from the unit 2 reactor as being 10 million times the norm, which prompted an evacuation of the building.
After the levels were correctly measured, airborne radioactivity in the unit 2 turbine building still remained so high — 1,000 millisieverts per hour — that a worker there would reach his yearly occupational exposure limit in 15 minutes. A dose of 4,000 to 5,000 millisieverts absorbed fairly rapidly will eventually kill about half of those exposed.
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The latest confusion in the operation to stave off a full-scale nuclear meltdown at the crippled facility underscores the immense challenges for the several hundred workers in a desperate battle to restart the critical cooling systems. Seventeen workers have been exposed to high levels of radiation, including three who were hospitalized last week, as technicians conducted highly nuanced electrical work in dark conditions that one nuclear industry expert termed “hellish.”