Fukushima Workers Exposed to Radiation in Filter System Leak

Six cleanup workers at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant were exposed to radiation after a hose piping contaminated water was mistakenly detached leaking seven metric tons, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

Four of the workers were contaminated during the initial spill, which was contained by a barrier around the desalination facility, Mayumi Yoshida, a spokeswomen for the utility known as Tepco, said today by phone. Another two workers came in contact with the water when they arrived to help, she said.

The leak is the third mishap in two weeks attributed to worker mistakes at the plant. A pump used to cool the plant’s No. 1 reactor briefly stopped on Oct. 7 after a worker mistakenly pushed a stop button on the device, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority. A miscalculation by cleanup crews is thought to have allowed a tank holding contaminated water to overflow on Oct. 3, Tepco said.

“The work environment and on-site morale need to be improved overall,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said today at a press conference. “Carelessness is a problem that can’t just be regulated away.”

Tepco is measuring the degree of radiation exposure to the workers, who were wearing protective clothing and are not thought to have inhaled any contaminants, Yoshida said.

The amount of the leak was seven tons, Tepco said in an e-mailed statement today.

Leak Investigation

The leaked water was found to have beta radiation levels of 34 million becquerels per liter, Tepco said in a statement. Beta radiation includes strontium-90, which has been linked to causing cancers such as leukemia.

Tepco also today released details of its investigation into the August leak of 300 metric tons of contaminated water from a storage tank, concluding that the accident was probably caused by corrosion around faulty seals.

The water appears to have escaped through metal corroded by water that seeped in between two of the plates that make up the walls of the tank, Yoshida said. The leak, first detected on Aug. 19, was described by Japan’s nuclear regulator as the worst accident at Fukushima since the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 caused reactors to melt.

“The water may have come through the sealant,” Yoshida said, adding that the company was investigating whether other tanks of similar design were vulnerable to such sealant problems. “We are investigating how that happened.”

Government Role

Two cracks were found near the bottom of the tank, the company said in a statement. One was about 3 millimeters (0.12 inches) wide and 22 millimeters long, while the other was 2 millimeters to 3 millimeters wide and 11 millimeters long.

The plant has more than 1,000 tanks holding in excess of 380,000 tons of water irradiated from contact with reactor fuel. About 300 of the tanks are of the same bolted variety as the leaking tank. That leak may have been going on for several weeks before it was detected, Tepco has said.

The August leak was among a series of mishaps this summer that prompted Japan’s government to intensify its involvement in the site’s management after concluding that responses by the utility hadn’t been adequate.

The impact of the nuclear crisis was also being felt away from the power plant, with Fukushima’s government announcing that cesium levels for rice grown in the prefecture exceeded legal limits.

Levels of 120 becquerels per kilogram were detected in some rice produced in Minamisoma city, near the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, higher than the legal limit of 100 becquerels, according to a statement from the prefecture yesterday.

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