Workers Return to Japan Nuclear Plant After Radiation Spike

BY News Desk  March 16, 2011 at 2:09 PM EST

6:50 p.m. ET | Japanese Quake Survivors Speak Out on Nuclear Crisis


Also, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Director Gregory Jaczko testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday and spoke of concerns about the events in Japan, particularly around the problems plaguing Fukushima’s Dai-Ichi plant’s Unit No. 4.

“We believe radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures,” Jaczko said.

You can watch video of the hearing via C-SPAN.

3:30 p.m. ET| A new power line could help restore damaged cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, according to Naoki Tsunoda, spokesman for the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Though no exact time has been given, Tsunoda said the line is near completion. The line would provide for a steady stream of water onto the reactors to keep them cool.

White smoke could be seen rising from the plant as workers scramble to cool the damaged reactors and avoid a meltdown.

Meanwhile Yukiya Amano, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is heading to Japan to address the crisis, which he referred to as “very serious.”

1:45 p.m. ET | Dr. Lew Pepper, who has conducted research for the Department of Energy, and focuses on the health effects of workplace exposure, talked with the NewsHour Reporter/Producer Mike Melia about some of the potential health effects facing the workers who are remaining at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

He said of the workers remaining inside the plant that “individuals have to have agreed they are going to do this and know it present tremendous risk to them. They recognize risk of developing symptoms of acute radiation syndrome and long-term risk for cancer also increases.” He said acute radiation syndrome affects the gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system and blood forming organs. Pepper explained that while the workers are wearing suits, they are still not protected from certain types of potentially harmful radiation.

He said those living in the evacuation area near the plant “risk the release of some radioactive dust caught in the wind and could land on their homes, on their homes, on their vegetables. They are told to stay inside [and] reduce potential exposure to particles.” As for areas further from Fukushima, such as Tokyo with a population of 39 million, he said the “risk they face depending upon what goes on at site what releases are like and which way winds are blowing…[and] the distribution of particulates to those areas.”

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has advised Americans living within a 50-mile radius to evacuate:

After a careful analysis of data, radiation levels, and damage assessments of all units at Fukushima, our experts are in agreement with the response and measures taken by Japanese technicians, including their recommended 20 km radius for evacuation and additional shelter-in-place recommendations out to 30 km.

12:40 p.m. ET | National Geographic has compiled “20 Unforgettable Pictures” from the tsunami and its aftermath.

For an update on relief efforts, NewsHour’s Talea Miller spoke to Kirsten Mildren, Asia regional advocacy officer for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Lea Winerman looked at coverage of the “Fukushima 50,” the nuclear workers who stayed behind to grapple with the disaster despite potential damage to their health.

9:15 a.m. ET | A spike in the radiation levels at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant caused an evacuation of workers who have been on site trying to contain the damage done to its nuclear reactors by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s northeast coast on Friday.

As radiation levels fell, a small handful returned after Japan’s Health and Welfare Minister raised normal standards for radiation exposure to 250 millisieverts, or five times what is allowed in the U.S. Operators have been dousing the reactors with seawater in an attempt to cool them down in a series of explosions and fires have raised the risk of a meltdown at the plant. Steam could be seen billowing from the facility, raising concerns that it could be radioactive and blown out to sea.

Helicopters were see flying above the plant, but did not drop seawater from above on to the reactors.

Japan’s Emperor Akihito,77, delivered his first-ever nationally televised speech, in which he said he was “deeply worried” about the situation at the nuclear facility and expressed concern for those affected by the disaster, urging the survivors to maintain hope. “I pray that we will all take care of each other and overcome this tragedy,” he said.

With a dead toll estimated at more than 10,000, survivors continued to face miserable conditions as temperatures were expected to drop below freezing. Food and water have been in short supply and some 450,000 people are in makeshift shelters.

After a 16 percent drop on Monday and Tuesday, the Nikkei stock index showed signs of recovery, increasing by 5.7 percent. The world’s third-largest economy has been shaken by the disaster as manufacturers suspended production and markets reflected a sense of uncertainty.

Several foreign airlines have temporarily halted flights in and out of Japan, and France issued a statement saying Air France had been charged with providing planes for its citizens to leave the country. The Chinese government issued a statement saying it would examine its own nuclear safety standards, and assuring its citizens that the winds would carry and radioactivity across the Pacific, not toward China.