| TOKYO, March 29
TOKYO, March 29 Biscuits and vegetable juice for
breakfast, no lunch, and a packet of rice with canned fish or
meat for supper. No showers, no beds and virtually never a
change of clothes.
That's the grim lot of hundreds of workers toiling in
perilous conditions to avert a catastrophic nuclear meltdown at
Japan's earthquake-wrecked Fukushima power plant.
"This is similar to a war zone and things need to be
addressed, including providing proper back-up for the workers
who are under immense stress," said Hirotada Hirose, professor
of disaster psychology at Tokyo Woman's Christian University.
"If this continues, productivity and morale will fall and
workers will become likely to make mistakes. We cannot afford
that," Hirose told Reuters.
First dubbed the "Fukushima Fifty", the ranks of the unnamed
and largely faceless corps of men risking their lives to prevent
further disaster for their countrymen has risen to over 400.
Feted by foreign media and on social networks as heroes, they
have also won quieter admiration and sympathy from Japanese.
But little was known until now of the dire living conditions
that they faced in addition to the risks from radiation inside
the buildings housing the stricken nuclear reactors.
The air around the plant is so contaminated by radiation
that the men have to wear masks even when they are huddled
inside the so-called safe room where they eat and sleep. They
eat only packaged food, ramming it quickly into their mouths as
soon as it is opened to avoid contact with radiation.
"I don't think the workers are getting enough nutrition from
the food they are receiving," the Sankei Sports tabloid
newspaper quoted Kazuma Yokota of the nuclear safety agency as
saying at a news conference where he explained the men's living
More than a dozen workers have been injured at the plant
north of Tokyo, which was crippled by the March 11 earthquake
and tsunami. Two were taken to hospital due to suspected
radiation burns last week.
After a 7:00 a.m. meeting, the workers from plant operator
Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc (TEPCO) and other firms
such as Toshiba Corp head out to various sites within
the complex before returning to the safe room around 5:00 p.m.
Early in the evening, they gather around to raise their
spirits before wrapping themselves in blankets to sleep on the
Top government spokesman Yukio Edano conceded more could
have been done for the workers but told a news conference the
priority had to be averting a massive disaster at the plant.
"We have been doing the best we can for the workers but it
hasn't necessarily been enough because we've had to put our
priority on containing the accident."
(Editing by John Chalmers)