Fukushima 50: Nuclear Workers in Harm's Way
The Fukushima 50: Faceless Heroes of Japan
While people half a world away flock to buy potassium iodide pills, a handful of workers are volunteering to enter Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the face of measurably dangerous radiation levels. These are the Fukushima 50, and they stayed behind when the rest of the Fukushima Daiichi staff left the facility in the face of a possible meltdown.
The name "Fukushima 50" is a bit of a misnomer: there are 200 workers who enter the plant in shifts of 50. They stand between Japan and a full-scale nuclear disaster. The Fukushima 50 (or "the Faceless 50") are rank-and-file technicians who know the plant like the backs of their hands. This is handy, since there is no electricity at Fukushima Daiichi. They must work by flashlight.
Every hour, each member of the Fukushima 50 who is inside the plant is exposed to more radiation than an average nuclear worker sees in an entire career as they pump seawater onto the superheated reactor cores. While these workers have not yet been exposed to immediately-fatal doses of radiation, long-term illness, if not short-term injury, is virtually guaranteed.
Japan is hailing the Faceless 50 as national heroes, and it's hard to argue with that. Still, others point out that the workers' sense of duty has left them as Japan's last resort, and that TEPCO is still not being honest about the risks involved in working at Fukushima Daiichi.
Also see: Inside Fukushima Daiichi.
An admirer of the Fukushima crew tweeted, "Whatever's the closest int'l equivalent to the Medal of Honor - Nobel Peace Prize? -- The Fukushima 50 deserve that, and more," he wrote.
The workers are being asked to make escalating sacrifices that so far are being only implicitly acknowledged: Japan's Health Ministry said it was raising the legal limit on the amount of radiation to which each could be exposed, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, five times the maximum exposure permitted for nuclear plant workers in the United States.