Lethal Levels of Radiation Detected at Fukushima

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In many ways, it looks like daily life in Fukushima is slipping back into its familiar routines. In Koriyama, a town south of Fukushima City, a group of taiko drummers set up in front of the train station to perform in an annual summer festival. Girls cruise by on bicycles in their plaid skirts and white socks in the unusually mild August, and customers stop to browse at boxes of fresh peaches — a seasonal specialty of the prefecture, and, thanks to government testing, guaranteed to be mostly iodine- and cesium free.

The rhythm of the seasons in this rural swath of Japan may be regaining some sense of normalcy, but a reminder that things are still anything but is never far away. As if to prove that point, on Tuesday Tokyo Electric Power Company announced that workers at their Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant had discovered a second highly radioactive location at the plant in two days.

Radiation on the floor inside reactor No. 1 was measured to be 5000 millisieverts per hour, just one day after the employees found another “hot spot” of 10,000 millisieverts per hour at the base of a structure between reactors No. 1 and No. 2. (That was also as high as the Geiger counters could read; in reality, the levels could be higher.) As it is, both levels are many times higher than anything previously measured on the site; if a worker was exposed to 10,ooo millisieverts per hour for one hour, he or she could die within weeks.

TEPCO says that no workers were exposed to either area, and that it has cordoned off both to determine their source. The radiation between reactors 1 and 2 was likely deposited during the initial phases of the disaster when TEPCO attempted to vent the reactors and released large amounts of radioactive material into the air, according to an expert cited by CNN.

Though they do not necessarily indicate that radiation levels at the plant are increasing, the back-to-back finds are reminders that things at the plant are not exactly going to plan. Nearly five months into the crisis, tens of thousands of tons of contaminated water used to cool down the reactors are still in storage on the site and have not been disposed of. The roadmap to shut down the reactors is moving slowly, and these lethal levels will pose a new threat to that progress— not to mention to the over 2700 workers at the plant.

The government has been conducting regular tests of the communities surrounding the plant, and TEPCO, widely criticized for its handling of the disaster since March 11, has said it will release figures for the amount of air and water contamination caused by the facility sometime in August.

But as more and more “hot spots” are found in towns outside the original evacuation areas, people are no longer waiting for TEPCO or officials to tell them what’s what. Kuniei Kanno, a rice and broccoli farmer in Koriyama, says that his colleagues have lost their faith. “A lot of the farmers don’t trust what the government is saying,” he says. “They’re buying their own testers.” A pervasive sense of skepticism, it seems, is the new normal.