First Look Inside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant [Gallery]

First images showing firefighters braving contamination risks at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear PowerPlant and battling to cool down overheating reactors has been released by the Tokyo Fire Department.

  • In this photo released by Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers collect data in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on Wednesday, March 23. Photo: Nuclear and Industrial Safety AgencyIn this photo released by Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers collect data in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, on Wednesday, March 23. Photo: Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency
  • In this photo released by Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, a Tokyo Electric Power Co. worker looks at gauges in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Wednesday on March 23. Photo: Nuclear and Industrial Safety AgencyIn this photo released by Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, a Tokyo Electric Power Co. worker looks at gauges in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Wednesday on March 23. Photo: Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency
  • In this photo released by Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers collect data in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on Wednesday, March 23. Photo: Nuclear and Industrial Safety AgencyIn this photo released by Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, Tokyo Electric Power Co. workers collect data in the control room for Unit 1 and Unit 2 at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okumamachi, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan on Wednesday, March 23. Photo: Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency

Tokyo Electric Power Company has distributed a series of dramatic images showing Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station workers-heroes, known as “The Fukushima 50”, risking their health to repair the control room of reactors no. 1 and 2, heavily damaged by the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan.

The Fukushima Fifty – an anonymous band of lower and mid-level managers – have battled around the clock to cool overheating reactors and spent fuel rods since the disaster on March 11. They wear protective bodysuits to protect their skin from the poisonous radioactive particles that fill the air around them.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the anonymous workers – which include employees of Tokyo Electric Power and other contract workers earning 9,000 yen ($110) a day – have been exposed to dangerously high levels of radiation inside the stricken plant.

Japan’s Health Ministry more than doubled the legal limit on the amount of radiation to which each worker could be exposed, in order to maintain the workforce at the site. Little information has been offered on the workers, except that they are rotating in shifts to limit their exposure to radiation.

It is also known that five have died and more than 20 have been treated for injuries, according to the Daily Mail (UK). The original 50 brave souls were later joined by 150 colleagues. And today they were joined by scores more workers.

Japan has rallied behind the workers with relatives telling of heart-breaking messages sent at the height of the crisis. A woman said her husband continued to work while fully aware he was being bombarded with radiation. In a heartbreaking e-mail, he told his wife: “Please continue to live well, I cannot be home for a while.”

One girl tweeted in a message translated by ABC: “My dad went to the nuclear plant, I’ve never seen my mother cry so hard. People at the plant are struggling, sacrificing themselves to protect you. Please, Dad come back alive.”

Workers continued to need flashlights on Wednesday to read gauges in the control room for Units 1 and 2 reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, although some power was being restored. Only two of the six reactors at the plant, Units 5 and 6, were considered under control, but new problems emerged in the cooling system at Unit 5 on Wednesday, according to plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Workers’ efforts to get the cooling pumps working have been hampered, as the crews have repeatedly been forced to evacuate due to bursts of gray smoke from the reactors. Observers say that such smoke may not necessarily be radioactive, but it demonstrates that the plant is not yet under control.

But Japan’s concerns have turned to the spread of radiation risk outside the Fukushima plant. Radioactive iodine has been detected in the water supply of Tokyo, more than 130 miles (220 kilometers) to the south. Authorities warned that infants in Tokyo and the surrounding areas should not drink tap water.

The government also said it had found radioactive material in vegetables in the Fukushima Prefecture, where the plant is located. Shipments of those vegetables were halted. Hong Kong has banned food imports from the area, and the United States was prohibiting imports of dairy goods or produce from the region.

The emerging food and water concerns indicate that Japan’s nuclear woes may well continue long after workers stabilize Fukushima Daiichi’s radioactive fuel. So, what do you think about it? Tell us your thoughts. [via Daily Mail (UK), National Geographic and MSNBC Photo Blog]

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