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Workers toil under intense heat at crippled nuclear plant

world Updated: Jul 16, 2011 14:21 IST

Workers are struggling under intense heat at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant with as many as 31 people having fallen sick complaining of apparent symptoms of heat stroke, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co.

While the utility, which operates the plant, has taken steps to ease labor conditions such as shifting work hours, they are apparently not enough. Sweat begins to build up inside masks, for instance, within seconds of them being donned.

Workers also appear to feel pressured and refrain from taking sufficient breaks for fear of slowing down work to contain the crisis.

Mitsuo Sakamoto, 57, from Miyakonojo, Miyazaki Prefecture, is operating heavy machinery to remove rubble in a room several meters away, controlling it through a TV monitor as the machine picks up highly irradiated pieces of rubble one by one and moves them to containers.

Because of manpower shortages, he says he works three-and-a-half-hour stretches without a break.

The operation room, made from a truck rear deck, has walls made of lead, which shields radiation but turns the room into a sauna during the day. An air conditioner was only installed recently but even after it was set up, it is sweltering hot, Sakamoto says.

"Concentration is needed for my work but I tend to get distracted because of sweat that runs down to my eyes and the heat," Sakamoto says. "It's also tough psychologically."

Satoru Hayama, 39, from Kaukabe, Saitama Prefecture, is using a crane to set up tanks to store water that is to be injected into reactors for cooling them down. His work starts at 7:30 am and ends at 12:30 pm., with a one-and-a-half-hour designated break from 9 am.

Since he cannot remove his mask during work, he cannot wipe it with a towel even when he sweats.

"Sweat trickles down from the mask," he says. "You wouldn't know what that heat is like until you experience it."

He wears a "cool" vest that contains refrigerant but it gets warm quickly, he says.

Though his supervisor urges him to take a break, he says he is hesitant to do so because if he does, other workers engaged in the installation of the tanks will also have to stop.