Appropriate radiation control vital for Fukushima decommissioning — The Yomiuri Shimbun

Another conservative article by The Yomiuri Shimbun that nonetheless sheds some light on decontamination workers’ exposure to radiation.

” It will take about 40 years to decommission reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. To secure the personnel necessary for that task, it is important to thoroughly safeguard the health of such personnel.

TEPCO has started stepping up its safety measures. The utility has established a consultative body in cooperation with subcontracting firms that dispatch personnel to the plant, thereby increasing the frequency of visits and inspections at their work sites. Measures also include expanding worker safety education. These steps are in keeping with a set of safety guidelines laid down by the government in late August.

An average of about 7,000 personnel work at the Fukushima facility every day, and not a small number of accidents tied to construction and other work have occurred. We hope TEPCO will comprehensively improve the work environment of these personnel.

It is particularly important to reduce the workers’ radioactive exposure.

After substantial progress in decontaminating the grounds of the facility, personnel can engage in their duties at most work sites wearing only disposable anti-dust masks.

However, areas in and around the facility’s reactor buildings remain seriously contaminated. New procedures have been established to better secure the safety of personnel working in these spots. To ensure safety, the new procedure requires that the level of radioactive exposure first be estimated, followed by measures to reduce that level before personnel get down to work.

In this connection, there was a case of misconduct at the plant site. Dosage meters worn by personnel were covered with lead plates to make the devices indicate a lower level of radioactive exposure. To prevent a recurrence, the pockets in work uniforms were made transparent so the meters can be checked externally.

It is vital to strictly control the level of the workers’ exposure to radioactivity to secure their safety.

Leukemia case recognized

Last month, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry acknowledged a man in his 40s who developed leukemia after working at the Fukushima plant as a sufferer of work-related illness. He was the first decommissioning worker to be recognized as such.

The man’s radioactive exposure level measured 19.8 millisieverts, including his exposure at other nuclear power facilities. The figure was far lower than the upper limit set by the ministry for radioactive exposure levels of workers at nuclear facilities — 50 millisieverts per year and 100 millisieverts over a five-year period.

Despite his low exposure level, the worker was recognized as a sufferer of work-related illness because there are criteria for acknowledging work-related leukemia separate from the upper limits for radioactive exposure.

In deciding whether someone suffers from leukemia caused by his or her work, a ministry panel of experts relies on such standards as “measurement of radioactive exposure of five millisieverts or more per year” and “no other factor can be presumed to be the cause of the disease.”

The ministry set the upper limit on radioactive exposure at a level at which no negative health effects can be expected. On the other hand, the criteria for recognizing work-related leukemia were established on the assumption that some people may be extraordinarily sensitive to radioactivity. Those criteria are intended to ensure that no such persons are excluded from eligibility for compensation.

The upper limit on radioactive exposure levels and the standards for acknowledgement of work-related illness should not be easily linked, because the two criteria were set from entirely different points of view.

Since 1976, the ministry has acknowledged a total of 13 nuclear power plant workers as sufferers of work-related illness. It has emphasized that these cases, including the latest one, do not mean that “cause-and-effect relationships [between these people’s radioactive exposure and the outbreak of their diseases] have been proved.”

To prevent the spread of anxiety, efforts should be made to ensure accurate pertinent information is imparted to the public. ”


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