The 'Fukushima 50': Nuclear Workers Stay Behind to Brave Plant's WoesBy: Lea Winerman
As the nuclear crisis continued in Japan Wednesday, the world's attention turned to small corps of thus far anonymous workers who make up the last line of defense against a nuclear catastrophe at the earthquake and tsunami-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.
Almost no information has been released about the workers, who stayed behind -- at great personal risk -- as their colleagues were evacuated. Those workers are now battling to keep the reactors cool enough to prevent a meltdown.
Originally called the "Fukushima 50," according to news reports the crew grew Wednesday to 180 workers working in shifts of 50.
The New York Times takes a detailed look at the life-threatening risks the workers are facing:
They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air."These are heroes," Dr. Chandon Guha, a radiation expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told NPR -- echoing the opinion of many others.
They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.
Those remaining are being asked to make escalating -- and perhaps existential -- sacrifices that so far are being only implicitly acknowledged: Japan's Health Ministry said Tuesday it was raising the legal limit on the amount of radiation to which each worker could be exposed, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, five times the maximum exposure permitted for American nuclear plant workers.
- The Christian Science Monitor puts the workers' bravery in a cultural context: