Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant, has been revising guidelines for when workers need to wear full masks with hazmat suits or less-bulky outfits to improve their working conditions during the scorching summer.
While a full-body outfit limits radiation exposure, hazmat suits and full masks have been a heavy burden for workers because they restrict movement and make it difficult to breathe, prompting Tepco to revise the guidelines on their usage.
In March, Tepco changed the guidelines, dividing the premises into three areas.
In the area where radiation levels remain high, including inside reactor buildings 1, 2 and 3, workers will need to wear a full mask and disposable hazmat suit with a raincoat-like outer layer.
Workers meanwhile will need to wear full or half masks with hazmat suits in areas where radiation levels are lower, such as near tanks filled with radiation-tainted water. In the remaining area, the majority of which has low levels of radiation, workers only need to use disposable masks and their usual work outfits, Tepco said.
According to the utility, out of about 5,000 to 6,000 workers on the premises, about 47 percent were required to wear a full mask in June, down from about 66 percent in January, before the guidelines were changed.
Those who are required to wear a half mask increased to 48 percent from 28 percent in the same period, it said.
Before the guidelines were revised, about 8,000 disposable hazmat suits were used per day, but the number declined to about 4,000.
Even as hazmat suit requirements have halved, radiation exposure cases have remained unchanged at an average of two a day, Tepco said, adding that the risk of radiation exposure has not increased.
Tepco said it will offer summer outfits at the beginning of this month to lessen the chance of workers succumbing to heatstroke.
In July, the health ministry opened a health care office at J-Village near the Fukushima No. 1 power plant so that its workers can seek free health consultations from doctors who are versed in radiation exposure.
“During the summer period, the health of workers tends to worsen due to heatstrokes as well as other illnesses, so we need to step up measures to resolve the situation,” said a heath ministry official.