21 Août 2018
August 18, 2018
Leaving no stone unturned in heatstroke battle at nuclear plant
By HIROSHI ISHIZUKA/ Staff Writer
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture--How to avert a heatstroke is more pressing than usual in Japan this summer as the archipelago bakes in a record heat wave.
It's not just sun-worshipers, children, the elderly and the infirm who should worry.
Spare a thought for the 5,000 or so workers who toil at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to get it ready for decommissioning.
They have to work outside in protective gear, with limited access to water and other resources.
At 5 a.m. on Aug. 6, a manager reminded a 20-strong group from IHI Plant Construction Co., which was contracted by Tokyo Electric Power Co., of the importance of adhering strictly to work rules.
“Please limit your efforts to shifts of less than 90 minutes,” the manager told the assembled workers in a lounge at the plant as he checked the complexion of each individual to gauge their health condition.
The workers are installing storage tanks for radioactive water that is accumulating at the plant.
They are not permitted to take food and beverages with them because of the risk of internal radiation exposure if the perishables are contaminated while they are working.
Water stations have been set up, but workers generally don't bother to quench their thirst as it means they have to change out of their work gear to reach the sites.
During the morning meeting, the manager also checked each worker’s alcohol level and made sure that everybody had water from oral rehydration solution. After that, workers put a cold insulator in their vests and headed to the work site.
The Fukushima plant complex has about 900 tanks set up. IHI Plant Construction installed about 20 percent of them.
The workers' primary responsibility in recent weeks is to inspect the condition of covers put in place to stop rainwater from accumulating around the tanks.
The workers are spared from the scorching sun as they work under cover, but coping with 90 to 95 percent humidity is a formidable challenge.
Junichi Ono, the head of the IHI Plant Construction’s task force assigned to the plant, said his company has tried to take every precaution against heatstroke.
“We need to pay attention because we work in a humid environment,” he said. “If a worker falls sick, we will lose valuable time taking that person to the doctor.”
According to TEPCO, 23 workers suffered heatstroke in the summer of 2011, shortly after the nuclear crisis unfolded at the plant.
Learning a lesson from that, workers were later instructed to start their tasks early in the morning and not work outdoors in principle between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. in July and August, the hottest part of the day.
The “summer time” schedule appears to be paying off.
In fiscal 2014, the number of workers afflicted with heatstroke at the plant stood at 15.
It dropped to four in fiscal 2016, but went back up to six in fiscal 2017 despite it being a relatively cool summer that year.
Although this year’s heat wave is unprecedented, only four workers have suffered heatstroke at the plant this summer.
The Japan Meteorological Agency forecast blistering summer heat in the coming week after a respite this weekend.