Safety team neglects risk

Before Thursday's incident, at least 14 workers had been exposed to more than 100 millisieverts of radiation since the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, it has been learned, raising questions about safeguards in place to protect people working to avert nuclear disaster at the power station.

Under the Industrial Safety Health Law, which stipulates rules to prevent injuries from radiation, workers at nuclear sites are allowed to be exposed to 50 millisieverts of radiation annually, and up to 100 millisieverts per year in emergencies.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, however, recently raised the emergency limit even further to 250 millisieverts for workers at the Fukushima plant.

In the ongoing nuclear crisis, radiation safety specialists were supposed to accompany people working in high radiation areas, but workers at the troubled nuclear plant on Thursday had no such safety personnel with them, a spokesman of plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. When the site was examined Wednesday, water levels were reportedly low, as was radiation, at only several millisieverts.

Armed with this data, safety specialists reasoned workers would absorb only up to 20 millisieverts of radiation while at the No. 3 reactor's turbine building Thursday, and did not accompany them because of the low level of risk, the spokesman said. When workers arrived, however, they were met with much higher water levels than expected and were unknowingly absorbing significantly higher levels of radiation.

Thursday's accidental exposure of three workers to excess amounts of radiation raised serious questions over whether sufficient safety measures are in place at the nuclear plant.

"Trying to keep water out of your shoes is common sense at locations with [radiation] contaminated water," said a specialist in radiation protection. "Failure to do even that means the workers weren't trained properly and radiation safety specialists weren't given good enough instructions."

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Compensation for workers

According to the labor ministry's compensation division, people who are sickened or injured from radiation exposure at work are provided with medical expenses, paid recovery leave and other financial assistance based on the Workers' Accident Compensation Insurance Law.

Paid leave can be up to 1-1/2 years, and those who require more time to recover are entitled to a disability pension, an injury and disease compensation pension, or a lump-sum payment.

At a press conference Thursday evening, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano called the exposure of the three workers "very regrettable."

When asked about compensation, he said, "We have to look into each case to determine what law should be applied."

-The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network