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福島原発、最後の砦: 50人の作業員たち

福島原発、最後の砦: 50人の作業員たち
3月15日付、ニューヨークタイムズ記事

March 15, 2011
Last Defense at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers
By KEITH BRADSHER and HIROKO TABUCHI

15日、火曜日現在、福島第一原発に、放射線と火災に勇敢に立ち向かっている50人の日本人がいる。彼らは、最悪の大災害を防ぐために残された、この原発施設の、そして日本にとっての最後の砦である。

彼らは、原子炉から噴出する水素ガスが漏れて、空気に触れた際に起こる絶え間ない爆発音を耳にしながら、灯りのない真っ暗な迷路のような施設敷地内を、懐中電灯のライトだけを頼りに這いずりまわっている。

彼らは皆、快適ではない防毒マスクを装着しており、背中には重たい酸素ボンベを背負っている。頭から足先まで全身を覆う白い防護服に身を包んではいるが、目に見えない放射線が体内に侵入するのを防ぐには頼りない。

彼らは名前も知られていない50人である。彼らこそ最後の最後まで現場に残って作業を続けている作業員たちである。彼らは自ら進んで、またはそう指示されて、まったく危険なまでに露出した燃料棒にポンプを使って海水をかけて冷却する作業に従事しているのだ。その燃料棒の一部分は恐らく溶融が始まっていて、高濃度の放射線を巻き散らかせているものと考えられているが、もしこの作業に失敗すれば大規模なメルトダウンが起こり、何千トンという放射性物質が大気中に放出され、何百万人という市民を危険にさらすことになるのだ。

彼らは火曜日に続いて水曜日にも、毎分数百ガロンもの海水を、1号機、2号機そして3号機に注入し続けているが、なお様々な困難に直面しており、さらなる火災の発生にも見舞われている。

これら作業員たちは、さらなる一層の犠牲、これまでのところ暗黙の了解に基づく犠牲を強いられている。日本の厚生労働省は火曜日に、作業員たちが浴びることを許容できる放射線量の法的上限を、100ミリシーベルトから250ミリシーベルトに引き上げる、と発表した。これはアメリカの原子力発電所で働く作業員に対して許容されている上限の5倍に当たる放射線量である。

この変更の意味する事は、現在福島原発で作業に当たっている作業員たちは、より長い時間、そこで作業を続けることができるようになる、ということである。「作業員の健康を考慮すると、さらにこれ以上、放射線許容レベルを引き上げるということは考えられない」と厚生労働副大臣の小宮山洋子は語った

福島原発を運営する東京電力は、現場作業員のことについては、どれくらいの時間まで作業員が放射線に耐えながら作業をつづけられるのかについて、これまで、一切、何も発表しいない。

東電が発表するわずかながらの情報から作業員に関するものをひろってみると、極めて不吉な絵が見えて来る。地震発生後、現地では5人の作業員が死亡しており、22人が負傷、2名が行方不明になっている。病院に運ばれた一人は、現場で突然胸をかきむしって苦しみ始め、その場で倒れたのだという。また別の作業員は現場で起きた爆発の影響で大量の放射線を浴び、治療を受けている。第3号機の水素爆発では11人が負傷したという。

(アメリカの)原発で働いていたことのある元ベテラン作業員の言葉によれば、彼らの間の仲間意識(esprit de corps)や絆は非常に固く、それは消防隊員や軍隊の隊員たちと同じようなものだという。仲間内での昼食時ともなれば、もし万が一原子炉で事故が起こったときにはどう行動するか、というようなことをしばしば語り合ったものだという。仲間内でのコンセンサスは、そんなときは、ただちに持ち場に着く前に、まず、家族に連絡して逃げろと伝える。というものだったと元原発作業員のMichael Friedlander言う。

「家族の安全や健康はもちろん心配さ。だが、自分自身はそこに残って、やるべきことをやるという義務がある。固い仲間意識と仕事に対する忠誠心があるんだ。何年も、そこで仲間と一緒にやって来てる訳だからな」

以下略

上記翻訳は不完全かつ不正確なものです。このような記事がある、ということを知っていただきたいと思い、意訳、抄訳したものです。正確を期すためには、原文をあたるか、専門家の翻訳をご参照ください。

以下原文

March 15, 2011
Last Defense at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers
By KEITH BRADSHER and HIROKO TABUCHI

A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday ― and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.

They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air.

They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.

They are the faceless 50, the unnamed operators who stayed behind. They have volunteered, or been assigned, to pump seawater on dangerously exposed nuclear fuel, already thought to be partly melting and spewing radioactive material, to prevent full meltdowns that could throw thousands of tons of radioactive dust high into the air and imperil millions of their compatriots.

They struggled on Tuesday and Wednesday to keep hundreds of gallons of seawater a minute flowing through temporary fire pumps into the three stricken reactors, Nos. 1, 2 and 3. Among the many problems they faced was what appeared to be yet another fire at the plant.

The workers are being asked to make escalating ― and perhaps existential ― sacrifices that so far are being only implicitly acknowledged: Japan’s Health Ministry said Tuesday it was raising the legal limit on the amount of radiation to which each worker could be exposed, to 250 millisieverts from 100 millisieverts, five times the maximum exposure permitted for American nuclear plant workers.

The change means that workers can now remain on site longer, the ministry said. “It would be unthinkable to raise it further than that, considering the health of the workers,” the health minister, Yoko Komiyama, said at a news conference.

Tokyo Electric Power, the plant’s operator, has said almost nothing at all about the workers, including how long a worker is expected to endure exposure.

The few details Tokyo Electric has made available paint a dire picture. Five workers have died since the quake and 22 more have been injured for various reasons, while two are missing. One worker was hospitalized after suddenly grasping his chest and finding himself unable to stand, and another needed treatment after receiving a blast of radiation near a damaged reactor. Eleven workers were injured in a hydrogen explosion at reactor No. 3.

Nuclear reactor operators say that their profession is typified by the same kind of esprit de corps found among firefighters and elite military units. Lunchroom conversations at reactors frequently turn to what operators would do in a severe emergency.

The consensus is always that they would warn their families to flee before staying at their posts to the end, said Michael Friedlander, a former senior operator at three American power plants for a total of 13 years.

“You’re certainly worried about the health and safety of your family, but you have an obligation to stay at the facility,” he said. “There is a sense of loyalty and camaraderie when you’ve trained with guys, you’ve done shifts with them for years.”

Adding to this natural bonding, jobs in Japan confer identity, command loyalty and inspire a particularly fervent kind of dedication. Economic straits have chipped away at the hallowed idea of lifetime employment for many Japanese, but the workplace remains a potent source of community. Mr. Friedlander said that he had no doubt that in an identical accident in the United States, 50 volunteers could be found to stay behind after everyone else evacuated from an extremely hazardous environment. But Japanese are raised to believe that individuals sacrifice for the good of the group.

The reactor operators face extraordinary risks. Tokyo Electric evacuated 750 emergency staff members from the stricken plant on Tuesday, leaving only about 50, when radiation levels soared. By comparison, standard staffing levels at the three active General Electric reactors on the site would be 10 to 12 people apiece including supervisors ― an indication that the small crew left behind is barely larger than the contingent on duty on a quiet day.

Daiichi is not synonymous with Chernobyl in terms of the severity of contamination. The Ukrainian reactor blew up and spewed huge amounts of radiation for 10 days in 1986. But workers at the plants have a bond.

Among plant employees and firefighters at Chernobyl, many volunteered to try to tame, and then entomb, the burning reactor ― although it is not clear that all were told the truth about the risks. Within three months, 28 of them died from radiation exposure. At least 19 of them were killed by infections that resulted from having large areas of their skin burned off by radiation, according to a recent report by a United Nations scientific committee. And 106 others developed radiation sickness, with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and dropping blood counts that left them highly vulnerable to infections.

The people who had suffered radiation sickness developed other problems later, according to the report: cataracts, severe scarring from the radiation burns to their skin and an increased number of deaths from leukemia and other blood cancers.

Some of those Chernobyl workers were exposed to levels of radiation far beyond what has been measured to date at Daiichi ― especially helicopter pilots who flew through radiation-laden smoke spewing from the reactor to drop fire-extinguishing chemicals on it.

Radiation close to the reactors was reported to reach 400 millisieverts per hour on Tuesday after a blast inside reactor No. 2 and fire at reactor No. 4, but has since dropped back to as low as 0.6 millisieverts at the plant gate. Tokyo Electric and Japanese regulators have not released any statistics on radiation levels inside the containment buildings where engineers are desperately trying to fix electrical systems, pumps and other gear wrecked by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.

But nuclear experts said that indoor radiation levels were likely to be higher because the containment buildings were probably still preventing most radiation from leaving the plant.

The site is now so contaminated with radiation, experts say, that it has become difficult for employees to work near the reactors for extended periods of time. According to one expert’s account of nuclear emergency procedures, workers would be cycled in and out of the worst-hit parts of the plant.

In some cases, when dealing with a task in a highly radioactive area of the plant, workers might line up and handle the task only for minutes at a time before passing off to the next worker, said Katsuhiko Ishibashi, a former professor in the Research Center for Urban Safety and Security at Kobe University.

Tokyo Electric has refused to release the names or any other information about the 50 workers who stayed behind, nor have utility executives said anything about how they are being relieved as they become tired or ill.

Some of those battling flames and spraying water at reactors at Daiichi are members of Japan’s Self-Defense Force, police officers or firefighters. Others are contractors sent to the plant.

Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said Tuesday that Self-Defense Force soldiers might be called on to fly the helicopters that Tokyo Electric may use to spray water onto the overheating used fuel storage pool at reactor No. 4. The same day, however, members of Japan’s nuclear watchdog group, who had been stationed about three miles from the plant, were moved to a site 18 miles away. (The authorities later said that using helicopters to put spray water on reactor No. 4 might not be feasible.) If the plant operator is strictly limiting the exposure of each worker at Daiichi ― and thus calling on hundreds of volunteers to make up the 50 on site at any given time ― then Chernobyl may offer some consolation.

To clean up the Chernobyl site after the accident, the Soviet Union conscripted workers in proportion to the size of each of its republics, and developed a system to limit their exposure.

“They sent up to 600,000 people in to clean up the radioactive debris around the plant and build a sarcophagus,” said Dr. John Boice, an author of the study, a professor of medicine at Vanderbilt and the scientific director of the International Epidemiology Institute in Rockvillle, Md.

The workers, known as “liquidators,” were sent into contaminated zones for limited periods. “To date there’s very little evidence for adverse effects,” Dr. Boice said. “It was pretty smart. A large number of people got a relatively small dose. There may be a small risk of leukemia, but that’s not conclusive.”

Keith Bradsher reported from Hong Kong, and Hiroko Tabuchi from Tokyo. Denise Grady contributed reporting from New York, and Matthew L. Wald from Washington.

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