• Kyodo News


A Tokyo Electric Power Co. employee refused in a recent interview to reveal how much radiation he has been exposed to during nearly a month working inside the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

“I can’t tell you. It’s personal information,” said Yasuki Murata, a 44-year-old worker from the plant’s planning and public relations section, batting away repeated questions about his radiation exposure in an interview Wednesday.

Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant, causing it to spew radioactive materials into the environment, Murata has been staying on the plant’s premises in a two-story quake-proof building whose few windows are covered with lead plates to keep out radiation.

The only time Murata goes outside is when trucks arrive at the building with food from the J-Village, a soccer training facility that serves as the Fukushima base for dealing with the crisis, he said.

But while the building, put up last July as an emergency operation base for the plant, is designed to withstand an earthquake measuring the maximum 7 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, its radiation-proofing measures are considered inadequate.

A radiation level as high as around 3,000 microsieverts per hour was detected at one point around the building, some 200 meters northwest of the No. 1 reactor. No. 1 is thought to be the worst-hit among the crippled reactors and its fuel rods are estimated to have been 70 percent damaged.

With a total floor space of 3,700 sq. meters, the structure he is staying at was built in the wake of a major 2007 earthquake that caused a spate of problems at a Tepco nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture.

A total of 21 workers at the plant have so far been exposed to radiation exceeding 100 millisieverts, the usual limit for exposure in an emergency, while the limit has been raised to 250 millisieverts at present.

For workers engaged in the series of unprecedented crisis operations on the front line, a prefabricated facility has been set up at the entrance of the operation base for them to remove their protective suits, according to Murata.

Some 20 to 30 workers at a time take off their suits in the prefab every evening before moving on to the building’s entrance in their underwear and removing any remaining radioactive substances from their faces and bodies prior to entering, Murata said.

At an emergency operation room on the second floor of the building, Masao Yoshida, the head of the plant, and other senior officials are in contact with Tepco’s headquarters in Tokyo via a large teleconferencing system that is online 24 hours a day, reporting on work progress.

Several television sets are also installed in the room to follow broadcasts about Tepco and the nuclear crisis, while employees also track reactions to the disaster, both at home and abroad, on the Internet.

Meals for about 700 workers were prepared at lunchtime Wednesday, with workers now having three meals a day. The food includes sweet buns, nutritional products and sausages, an improvement from the two meals with crackers and dry rice they were served in the early days of the crisis.

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