GSDF members wash the hair of an evacuee as part of decontamination measures in Fukushima

GSDF members wash the hair of an evacuee as part of decontamination measures in Fukushima (Source: Makarazuya)

On June 17th, the Ministry of Defense announced that on earlier in the week, a Ground Self-Defense Force member received close to the legal emergency-level limit for radiation exposure.

The GSDF member, in his 40s and part of the 6th Division member (based at Camp Koriyama, Fukushima), was working in a 20-man group using water to cool down the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant on March 12th and 13th when he was exposed to 80.72 millisieverts (mSv). The first reactor’s housing exploded from a build-up of steam on March 12th.

Other members of the group were affected too: one received around 70 mSv, another around 60 mSv, a third at 50 mSv, and three others at 40 mSv. Two further members received 30 mSv, and three more received 10 mSv doses.

The current figures come following a Tokyo Electric Power Company investigation at the end of May. The other members of the group, all wearing dosimeters borrowed from TEPCO, are having their exposure reinvestigated. The dosimeters were returned to TEPCO without being checked.

Until now, the maximum recorded dose believed to have been received by service members was 22.7 mSv, the MoD explained, but this new figure is surprisingly close to the legal emergency limit at the time of 100 mSv. So far, 8 people have received doses over this limit. The limit was raised to 250 mSv on March 15th by the Ministry of Labor, Health and Welfare.

That service members have been negligent in checking their dosimeters comes as no surprise after stories of SDF working to exhaustion (see earlier JSW posts: here, here and here), but the shocking news here is that it took over two months for the MoD to learn of the true extent of its men’s exposure.

The MoD has stated that there are currently no adverse changes in the health of the SDF members involved that day. “Although there should be no health problems with a dose below the limit, this should have been confirmed much earlier.”

One can only hope that this is the extent of the exposure sustained by service members conducting the cooling efforts on the ground, but it seems overly optimistic to believe so.

[Adapted from NHK; Mainichi; Yomiuri; Asahi; Jiji]

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch