In the days after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station last March, the international media celebrated the heroism of the “Fukushima 50” — the plant and emergency workers who exposed themselves to extremely high radiation levels to get the reactors under control. Their efforts, it seems, were doomed from the start. Three of the reactor cores melted down anyway. And the cleanup will take decades.
During much of this cleanup process — especially in its current phase — thousands of workers will be exposed to levels of ionizing radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits. In fact, Japan raised exposure limits for both workers and the public, presumably in an attempt to reduce the number of cases that need to be documented as overexposures.
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