OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture--There are clear signs of progress in recovery work at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant, but radiation levels there remain dangerously high.
Journalists toured the site Oct. 12 in the fourth such visit organized by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. The latest tour for domestic media marked 19 months since the quake, tsunami and three reactor core meltdowns. The last tour took place in May 2012.
The reporters' bus first drove past the four critically damaged reactor buildings on their ocean side. Less rubble was seen strewn about compared with before, but an overturned truck still lay on the roadside, abandoned.
The reactors of concern are Nos. 1 through 4. Near the No. 4 reactor, the radiation level inside the bus reached 1,000 microsieverts per hour, the maximum recorded during this visit.
The bus turned inland, toward a hill, and stopped in front of the No. 4 reactor building. Some debris has now been removed from the building's top floor, a structure that houses a storage pool for spent nuclear fuel. However, the building's walls are still bare concrete and steel frames.
Cranes were seen lifting materials that will be used to install a protective cover over the entire building. A yellow lid, intended to cover the reactor containment vessel, lay down on the ground nearby.
Adjacent is the No. 3 reactor building. Its upper structure remains shattered, damaged by a hydrogen explosion three days after the quake and tsunami hit. Warped steel frames are now visibly rusty, testament to the period of time that has elapsed.
Radiation levels in the No. 3 reactor building remain too high for humans to work there.
For the first time, officials then took the reporters along a road on the hill side of the No. 1 and No. 2 reactor buildings.
The radiation level in the bus jumped to 800 microsieverts per hour. Nearby lies a cordoned-off area where last summer the radiation level was found to be at least 10 sieverts per hour, the highest ever recorded outside the reactor cores.
Also for the first time, the reporters were shown what is known as multi-nuclide removal equipment, filters that help to remove radioactive substances from the highly radioactive water lying in the basements of the reactor buildings. The equipment is currently in trials and will be put to full use when tests are complete.
The Asahi Shimbun reporter was exposed to a cumulative dose of 54 microsieverts during the five-and-a-half-hour trip. The journey began and ended at the J-Village soccer training facility, about 20 kilometers south of the site, which is now a logistics and supply base for the overall containment effort.
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