Navy sailors have radiation sickness after Japan rescue

Navy sailor Lindsay Cooper knew something was wrong when billows of metallic-tasting snow began drifting over USS Ronald Reagan.

“I was standing on the flight deck, and we felt this warm gust of air, and, suddenly, it was snowing,” Cooper recalled of the day in March 2011 when she and scores of crewmates watched a sudden storm blow toward them from the tsunami-torn coast of Fukushima, Japan.

The tall 24-year-old with a winning smile didn’t know it then, but the snow was caused by the freezing Pacific air mixing with a plume of radioactive steam from the city’s shattered nuclear reactor.

Now, nearly three years after their deployment on a humanitarian mission to Japan’s ravaged coast, Cooper and scores of her fellow crew members on the aircraft carrier and a half-dozen other support ships are battling cancers, thyroid disease, uterine bleeding and other ailments.

“We joked about it: ‘Hey, it’s radioactive snow!’ ” Cooper recalled. “I took pictures and video.”

But now “my thyroid is so out of whack that I can lose 60 to 70 pounds in one month and then gain it back the next,” said Cooper, fighting tears. “My menstrual cycle lasts for six months at a time, and I cannot get pregnant. It’s ruined me.”

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Toshiba researchers develop vacuum cleaner robot to help with Fukushima nuclear cleanup

Researchers from Japanese technology firm Toshiba unveiled a new robot on Friday that will assist with the cleanup efforts in Fukushima by vacuuming up radiation with dry ice. The large device runs on two caterpillar treads and is remotely controlled, in addition to having four cameras that allow it to “see” its surroundings.

An engineer explained that dry ice, or frozen CO2, is blasted onto floors and walls of areas that are contaminated. The substance begins evaporating immediately, carrying radioactive particles in the resulting gases, which are then sucked up by a vacuum-like nozzle. Toshiba’s Tadasu Yotsuyanagi says that both the impact of the dry ice and its evaporation help detach the radioactive substances from the surface, and since the dry ice immediately turns into gas, there is no waste produced. The robot is said to be able to clean a 2 square meter (22 square feet) area in one hour, however it is not yet ready to hold more than a half an hour’s worth of dry ice at a time.

Toshiba will begin testing the new robot later this month, with a goal of sending it to the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant by the summer. In November of last year, the company unveiled a different kind of remote-controlled robot, one with four legs that is meant to navigate and climb over hazardous debris, in order to reach areas that are not safe for humans to venture. Unfortunately, at its display to the press the robot gave an error and malfunction-filled performance, freezing in place and requiring a reboot. When it was finally sent to Fukushima to help in December, it managed to photograph an important part of the reactor in an area with high levels of radiation, yet on a second trip it toppled over while attempting to climb stairs.

Japan Government Apologizes to Fukushima Residents Over Botched Radiation Clean Up

Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited Fukushima on Wednesday and apologized to local residents, following disclosures of sloppy decontamination work.

Inoue said the government will clamp down on contractors cleaning up radioactive material around the ruined Fukushima nuclear plant.

The Environment Ministry hired the nation’s leading contractors to cleanse towns and villages near the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi power plant, starting with four relatively uncontaminated areas.

But the Asahi Shimbun reported last week that dirty soil, leaves and water have been dumped directly into rivers. The paper cited workers as saying they were told to sweep only around radiation monitoring sites.

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TEPCO Settles in Case Over Fukushima Evacuee’s Death

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has settled with the family of a woman from Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, who died as a result of the meltdown calamity at the utility’s stricken nuclear plant, sources said.

This is the first time Tepco has admitted a causal link between the death of an evacuee and the nuclear disaster at its Fukushima No. 1 plant. In all, 183 settlement cases have been made public by a government-run nuclear accident dispute settlement center.

According to the sources, the woman, who was hospitalized in the Odaka district of Minamisoma, died in April last year after she was forced to evacuate at the start of the crisis, the worst such incident since the 1987 Chernobyl disaster.

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Illegal Hiring Practices Uncovered at Fukushima Nuclear Plant

In a survey conducted by Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), it has been discovered that nearly half of the subcontract workers at Fukushima No 1 Nuclear Power Plant have been hired illegally. They received work assignments from companies that are different from those that hired them.

The Employment Security Act clearly states that “deceptive work contracts” are illegal. The Labor Standards Act also requires employers to state working conditions clearly in the contracts. However, the results of the survey show that the subcontract workers did not receive any written documents from those who hired them. 3,974 people working for companies that were hired by 27 prime contractors from Sept. 20 to Oct. 18 were the target of the poll and 80.2% of them responded. Of the 2.423 workers who were asked whether they received work assignments from the same companies who hired them, 47.9% or 1,160 of them said no.

158 workers said that they were told by the original company that hired them to “work on the spot as instructed by other companies.” while 125 were explicitly told to write the name of a different company in documents submitted to contractors or TEPCO. What is more disturbing is that 36% of all respondents did not receive documents that state the working conditions they will be working in, including nature of the work and wages information. This fact is critical for people working in highly dangerous areas like nuclear power plants. As to what punishment these violations will receive, there is no word yet. Masayuki Ono, a TEPCO official just said that clearly, there are working conditions that need to be improved.

Survey Balloon Flown Inside Fukushima Reactor

The operator of the defunct Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has flown a balloon inside the No.1 reactor building to check the upper part of the structure.

Tokyo Electric Power Company on Wednesday launched a balloon from the first floor, to about 30 meters up inside the building.

The 2 meter wide balloon was equipped with 4 cameras and a device to monitor radiation.

Photos showed concrete debris from a hydrogen explosion scattered on the upper floors. But the crane for pulling out fuel rods, and a device for exchanging them, remained intact and had not fallen into the pool for spent fuel rods, as had been feared.

Radiation levels registered at 150 millisieverts an hour around the building’s second floor and 54 millisieverts an hour around the topmost fifth floor.

Japan government approves long-term clean-up for Fukushima radiation

The government approved a long-term goal Friday for reducing exposure to radiation in Fukushima Prefecture to levels in line with international standards as part of the policy for reconstruction and recovery from the nuclear crisis.

The Cabinet approved the goal of cutting the annual radiation dose to 1 millisievert or less, excluding exposure to natural radioactivity, in the prefecture hosting the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant, but it failed to meet a call to boost subsidies to firms starting firms or expanding operations.

The current evacuation order around the plant is designed to prevent exposure of more than 20 millisieverts of radiation a year, based on information from the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

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Japan’s Nuclear Disaster Due to Collusion

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear crisis was a preventable disaster resulting from “collusion” among the government, regulators and the plant operator, an expert panel said on Thursday, wrapping up an inquiry into the worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

Damage from the huge March 11, 2011, earthquake, and not just the ensuing tsunami, could not be ruled out as a cause of the accident, the panel added, a finding with serious potential implications as Japan seeks to bring idled reactors on line.

The panel criticized the response of Fukushima Daiichi plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, regulators and then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who quit last year after criticism of his handling of a natural disaster that became a man-made crisis.

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Cooling System Fixed at Fukushima No. 4 Reactor Pool

The cooling system for the No. 4 reactors hazardous spent-fuel pool came back to life Sunday at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant after emergency repairs succeeded, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.The cooling system automatically shut down on Saturday for unknown reasons, allowing the water in the pool to reach 42.9 degrees Sunday. The pool must stay filled to prevent the used rods from burning up.The cooling system resumed shortly after 3 p.m. The temperature in the pool, which is sitting perilously atop the reactor in a heavily damaged building, was 33.3 degrees when the cooling system failed Saturday morning.

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Cooling System Knocked Out in Fukushima’s No. 4 Reactor Pool

The cooling system of the spent-fuel pool in reactor 4 at the Fukushima No. 1 plant automatically suspended operations Saturday and the water temperature is starting to rise, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. The utility has been unable to activate a backup cooling system for the pool since operations halted at around 6.25 a.m., and is looking into the causes, Tepco officials said later in the day.The pools water temperature stood at around 31 degrees Celsius when the cooling system ceased functioning and was increasing by 0.26 degree per hour late Saturday afternoon, according to the officials

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