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Feeling the Heat in Fukushima via Japan Focus

Most coverage of the plight of Fukushima Daiichi workers has rightly focused on the dangers of radiation exposure. On June 20, it was announced that another worker, the ninth since the crisis began in March, may have exceeded 250 mSv of radiation exposure, the absolute limit in emergency situations. One individual is reported to have been exposed to over 500 mSv. 115 have been exposed to more than 100 mSv. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and TEPCO are cooperating to organize health checks for Fukushima Daiichi workers, but it is unlikely that this will mitigate serious health problems, including dramatically increased risk of cancer. It is also unclear how potentially much more dangerous internal radiation exposure is being measured.

There are multiple allegations of safety lapses at the site, including a lack of protective boots and masks used without vital filters. There are also reports that some workers are not being told their level of exposure, effectively being left in the dark about potential short and long term health effects. In an editorial on June 16, the Tokyo Shimbun accused TEPCO and the Japanese government of continuing to take the health of Fukushima workers lightly. Other reportage has played up the transient nature of nuclear work and the difficulty of tracking health effects – TEPCO and the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare cannot locate 30 men who worked at the site after the March disaster.

Radiation, however, is not the only danger facing Fukushima Daiichi workers. In mid-May, a worker in his 60s lost consciousness at the site and died later in hospital. The worker suffered a heart attack, likely brought about by a combination of physically grueling work and advanced age. Incidents like this one raise questions about the nature of the work at Fukushima and what measures can be taken to safeguard the health of workers from factors other than radiation, a different issue requiring a different response.

Below is a working paper by Cara O’Connell, a physical therapy specialist, who draws attention to the punishing heat that Fukushima workers endure and ways that their suffering can be alleviated.

Continue reading at Feeling the Heat in Fukushima

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