Pets abandoned on the deserted streets and the people who defied evacuation orders are the only life forms around the damaged nuclear plant. The gloomy picture was made by a team of Japanese television that has made its way beyond the signs that mark the “danger zone” over a radius of 20 km.
Streets and houses seem empty. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from the area, the only ones allowed are workers struggle to limit the radioactive leaks. Visitors are greeted only by dogs and the mooing of the cows abandoned by farmers. But the first impression is misleading.
Despite warnings to leave the area, some residents chose to stay, assuming the risk. “There’s no goods here that you can buy, not many shops open, but still enough farmers in the area and so we have vegetables”, said one of them, Shinichi Fukushima, a rice grower. “More people will die and bad things will happen. It’ll be worse,” said another resident that remained in place.
Record-high levels of radiation
Japanese Prime Minister announced that the country is in “high alert” to reduce the risk of nuclear crisis. The plant in Fukushima was severely damaged by a tsunami that followed the earthquake of March 11. The crisis has worsened, however, calling into question the ability of specialists to stabilize the reactors.
The concentration of radioactive iodine in the sea, 300 meters from the central was yesterday 3,355 times above the normal. It’s the highest level of iodine 131 measured starting from the beginning of the disaster, three times higher than the one measured on Sunday.
Since the beginning of the accident, numerous radioactive elements, mainly iodine and cesium were released from the Japanese nuclear plant, and pushed out as tons of water were poured in to cool the reactors. Some of this water has been drained into the Pacific. According to experts, this will not have a major impact on a planetary scale, but could have a notable impact, lost lasting, on marine life off the Japanese coast.
Japanese officials plan to wrap the roofs and exterior walls of the reactor no. 1, 3 and 4 buildings in concrete to reduce the radioactive emissions, according to daily newspaper “Asahi Shimbun”. The use of an oil tanker was taken into consideration to get rid of the contaminated water. Workers have poured some of this water in tanks that are full now and they must find another container to store the radioactive water.
All reactors will be closed, announced the Japanese government
Damaged reactors must be demolished after cooling, and radioactive materials must be stored in a special manner, said Tomoko Murakami, nuclear researcher at the Institute for Energy Economics in Japan. Removing them from the plant could take up to three decades, Murakami estimated, based on the only attempt so far in Japan to disable a commercial reactor.
“Samurai nuclear workers” get 820 Euros a day
Meanwhile, a drama takes place inside the nuclear plant for the workers involved in the reactor cooling. The Western press is speaking of “death squads” whose members have sacrificed themselves like kamikaze. Legal limit of radiation allowed for staff in the nuclear field has been increased now to 250 millisievert per year, compared to 100 in normal conditions. An annual exposure to more than 100 millisievert increase cancer risks.
An inspector who spent five days inside the station says the workers have reached “the limits of human existence”. They get huge daily doses of radioactivity and they get out of the protection overalls only to slip under a blanket of lead when at rest.
“Nuclear Samurai” sleep wherever they can find an open space: in the conference rooms, corridors and stairways. In total, 400 people are now working inside the plant. According to the information available, they receive up to 100,000 yen (820 Euros) per day – 20 times more than on a normal working day.
The President and General Manager of the damaged nuclear plant operator, TEPCO, Masataka Shimizu, was hospitalized Tuesday night suffering from hypertension. Shimizu fell ill five days after the earthquake. Since then he never returned to work.
Radioactive ships in Europe?
More harbors in Europe take precautions on ships that sailed for Japanese waters, to prevent radioactive contamination, according to the Financial Times. The alarm was given after a contaminated boat arrived in China.