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Japan’s Nuclear Workers ‘Not Committing Suicide,’ Wakeford Says

Richard Wakeford, a professor at the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester, comments on the risks of nuclear radiation following the damage at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic plant. He made the remarks in a telephone interview today.

“The workers who are still in the plant will be monitored very carefully. Their doses will be limited if at all possible; they’ll be wearing protective clothing, PVC suits, breathing apparatus. They’re certainly not committing suicide.

‘‘My bigger concern for them is further hydrogen explosions like they had at unit number 3.

‘‘The guys working in the reactors are heroes, working under incredible conditions, in particular the threat of large explosions. They should be given medals. I don’t think they’ve been given the credit they deserve yet.

‘‘It’s difficult to see this far on from the shutdown of the reactors how Tokyo could seriously be under threat. The biggest danger, five days in, is not being able to cool the fuel. It will probably take a week or two to achieve full stabilization. Surely it’s not helped by hydrogen explosions, but they still seem to be able to keep control of the levels of radioactive release, so in that sense the situation is getting better.

‘‘At the moment, these levels of radiation don’t warrant a 20 kilometer evacuation zone. But they’re quite right to do it in case there’s a more serious release of radioactive material. It’s a sensible precaution.

‘‘They’ve issued iodide tablets to counter the effect of any radio iodine. The thing they’re aiming to do is limit the dose to the thyroid glands of children. The big problem after Chernobyl, which was a much bigger accident than this, where a lot of radioactive iodine was released, was that the local authorities were in denial. They didn’t evacuate, they didn’t stop the consumption of contaminated milk, they didn’t issue stabilizing tablets until it was too late, and there’s lots of thyroid cancer as a consequence.”

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