Human error mishaps are just multiplying as six workers at Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima ended up accidentally splashed with highly radioactive water, the plant operator said Wednesday.
The workers removed the wrong pipe from equipment at the plant, sending toxic water spilling onto them and the entire floor of the facility housing a set of three units designed for primary, partial water treatment, said Yoshimi Hitosugi, the spokesman for Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco).
The workers, who were wearing face masks with filters, protective hazmat suits and raingear, suffered minor exposure, but the incident is still under investigation, Hitosugi said. The six were part of an 11-member team; the remaining five did not get hit with the water, he said. The workers also reattached the pipe.
The accident is the latest in a spate of leaks and other problems caused by human error that have added to public criticism of Tepco’s handling of the crisis at Dai-ichi, which is still in precarious condition since its triple meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
In order to keep the melted reactors cool, they must be continuously doused with water, which then becomes contaminated with radiation and then needs to pumped out and stored in tanks at the site.
Last week, workers overfilled a storage tank without fully checking water levels, causing a leak, possibly to the sea.
In August, the utility reported a 300-ton leak from another storage tank. That came after the utility and the government acknowledged that contaminated groundwater was seeping into ocean at a rate of 300 tons a day for some time.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said repeated mishaps could be a sign of the harsh work environment.
“Careless mistakes are often linked to (declining) morale,” Tanaka said at a news conference. “People usually don’t make silly, careless mistakes when working in positive environment and motivated. The lack of it, I think, may be related to the recent problems.”