Personnel dealing with Japan n-crisis risk lifelong problems

The Independent said the workers dealing with the escalating crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant that was extensively damaged in Friday's massive earthquake have a huge responsibility that could leave them with lifelong health problems, or even leave them dead.

Most emergency workers were evacuated Tuesday and about 50 remained inside the plant. They too left the plant Wednesday. A government spokesman said the inner shell in a reactor might be damaged and radiation was so high there that employees could no longer enter the complex.

White smoke was seen rising Wednesday from reactor number 3 at the plant in Fukushima that is home to six reactors after a fire broke out for a second day at reactor number 4.

The emergency workers have to perform tasks in challenging conditions as they scramble to ensure that there was no meltdown at the nuclear reactors. They also had to fight off fire.

The personnel, who are clothed in protective gear, have had to pump seawater into the failing reactors to try to keep them cool.

"I'm fairly sure the workers inside are being subjected to high levels of radiation," Rianne Teule, an anti-nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace, was quoted as saying.

"The information we have is they are working in 15-minute shifts to reduce exposure." The Independent said that the authorities have not provided information regarding the maximum doses of radiation the emergency workers will be exposed to.

There has been speculation that volunteers from other plants and retirees may be sounded out. When the worst nuclear accident took place in 1986 in Chernobyl, a volunteer group of older experts went to the site to offer their help as they felt that longer-term consequences such as cancers, which emerge many years later, would matter less to them.

Also, at Chernobyl, the local firemen who were the first to respond, were exposed to doses of radiation so large that many of them died within weeks.  Work is going on to make the Chernobyl reactor safe and the media report said that conditions inside the destroyed reactor are still so bad that there are rooms in which workers can only enter for a few seconds.

"There's a regular maximum dose per year in every country, and once the Japanese workers get that, they should be sent home," Laurin Dodd, an American nuclear specialist currently at Chernobyl, told The Independent.

"You can also bring in one-time exceptions where people exceed the maximum dose."  Dodd said that the emergency workers in Japan could be at risk, but added the scale of the disaster was considerably smaller than at Chernobyl.

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