Battle to control Fukushima has just 'stored up' dangers

 

David McNeill
Friday 16 December 2011 01:00
Comments
<p>Workers at the Fukushima plant are under pressure to take risks, says an undercover reporter </p>

Workers at the Fukushima plant are under pressure to take risks, says an undercover reporter

The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant is expected to declare today that its crippled reactors have been stabilised, nine months after an earthquake and tsunami triggered the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

But critics, including a journalist who worked undercover at the plant, have rubbished the claims by Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) that the crisis is over. And Japan's government admitted this week that dismantling the reactors and the 260-tonne lethal cargo of nuclear fuel will take up to 40 years.

Tepco plans to announce that radiation releases from the plant are under control and the temperature of its nuclear fuel is consistently below boiling point: the two conditions set by the beleaguered utility for what it calls "cold shutdown conditions". Masao Yamaguchi, a Tepco spokesman, called the achievement a "milestone".

Much of the fuel in three of Fukushima Daiichi plant's six reactors has melted through the base of the containment vessels. Engineers are still pumping 4,000 tonnes of water a week on to the fuel to keep it cool, leaving 200,000 tonnes of heavily contaminated water on site. Despite the efforts, the rush to bring the plant under control is storing up complex problems, according to Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent a month working at the plant during the summer and has released a book this week about his experiences. "The question is, can they maintain this temperature for years and years?" he told reporters in Tokyo yesterday. "I believe the problems there are just starting."

Nuclear experts say the state of the molten fuel is still uncertain, with some speculating that the government is preparing to build a giant concrete "nappy" underneath the complex to stop radioactive substances leaking into the ground.

Mr Suzuki, for his part, paints an appalling picture of managerial callousness at the plant, claiming that after the first explosion on 12 March Tepco sent out a message to labour-dispatch companies saying: "Send us people who don't mind dying."

In the first few days of panic, workers were not issued radiation-measuring equipment and were not properly logged in, he said. "There's no way to track down the people who were at the site in March and April."

Workers are under pressure to extend their time working in radioactive conditions and have learned to cheat exposure-measuring dosimeters by putting them back to front and wearing them in their socks, he said. "Tepco does not instruct us to take these measures, but it sets tasks that force people to cheat with these dosimeters. Everyone understands this."

Tepco has refused to comment on Mr Suzuki's claims. Mr Suzuki was sacked from the plant in August, in part, he said, because he was the only worker who remained awake taking notes during Tepco briefings.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in