TEPCO to relax face mask rules at Fukushima nuke plant from May

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is set to allow workers to wear half masks or dust respirators instead of full-face protective gear in more areas of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex, beginning in May, in the hopes of reducing the physical burden on workers. With the exception of areas within the vicinity of the Unit 1 to 4 reactors, zones not requiring full-face masks will be expanded to about 90 percent of the site by March next year, compared with the current 65 percent. Meanwhile, full-face masks will still be required around above-ground tanks until the disposal of contaminated water stored there is completed. TEPCO has been working to reduce radiation levels at the site, including by paving the ground with asphalt, and made the decision to relax the rules after radiation levels in more areas fell below the dosage requiring the use of full-face masks. Each day, about 7,000 people take part in operations to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. Workers have complained about the full-face masks being stifling and getting fogged up by temperature fluctuations, thus compromising their workability. In light of the situation, the Fukushima prefectural government’s committee monitoring the safety of plant decommissioning urged TEPCO to expand areas in which workers do not need to wear full-face masks out of concerns over work-related injury and accidents as well as expediting work progress.