'The 50' Work to Prevent a Nuclear Catastrophe in Japan [Updated]

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Photo: Getty Images

There are now only 50 very brave people left at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the U.S. military has stepped up its efforts to help fight fires at the plant, as the remaining plant workers attempt to get the plant's four very volatile reactors under control. The plant's remaining workers were forced to handle a second explosive fire in the plant's No. 4 reactor, but quickly got the fire under control. Tokyo Electric Power, the company that operates the plant, attempted to drop water over Reactor 4 from a helicopter, but the mission was aborted because radiation levels were too high.

Meanwhile the No. 3 reactor, the only one in the complex that uses plutonium rather than uranium fuel, has ruptured and appears to be releasing radioactive steam. Plant operators have described No. 3 as "the priority," Reuters reported.

Those living near the troubled plants have begun fleeing toward the city of Osaka, and foreigners living in the country have boarded planes out of the country. Prime Minister Naoto Kan has said that people living at least thirteen miles away from the Daiichi plant are safe, but given the government's record of dishonesty on nuclear safety issues, many have grown skeptical.

Japanese Emperor Akihito made a rare address to his people, saying he was deeply concerned about a nuclear and humanitarian crisis that was "unprecedented in scale."

"I hope from the bottom of my heart that the people will, hand in hand, treat each other with compassion and overcome these difficult times," Akihito said.

And still, the 50 workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have stayed on, despite increased risks. The Times:

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.


“You’re certainly worried about the health and safety of your family, but you have an obligation to stay at the facility,” said Michael Friedlander, a former senior operator at three American nuclear power plants, as he described the unusual esprit de corps of nuclear plant workers. “There is a sense of loyalty and camaraderie when you’ve trained with guys, you’ve done shifts with them for years.”

Last Defense of Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers [NYT]
Japan battles to contain nuclear crisis and relieve quake survivors [Guardian UK]
U.S. Military Expands Relief Efforts in Japan [WSJ]

This post has been updated with additional information.