Spain Honors Japanese Nuclear Responders

Posted September 7th, 2011 at 11:15 am (UTC-5)
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Crews in Japan that worked to bring a damaged nuclear plant under control after a deadly earthquake and tsunami earlier this year have won Spain's prestigious Prince of Asturias humanitarian award.

The Prince of Asturias Foundation said Wednesday it is honoring the workers who braved dangerous levels of radiation at the Fukushima nuclear facility, about 220 kilometers northeast of Tokyo.

In a statement, the foundation said members of the crew represent the “highest values of the human condition,” and that their actions reflect the most deeply rooted values in Japanese society, such as a sense of duty, personal and family sacrifice for the common good, and dignity in the face of adversity.

The foundation said it award goes to three groups of Japanese: employees of the company that operated the nuclear plant, firefighters who worked to cool dangerously overheated reactors, and military personnel who flew helicopters over the nuclear plant, cordoned off an exclusion zone and evacuated residents.

The Asturias prizes are awarded in eight categories including humanities, technical research and international cooperation. They come with an award of $74,000.

The undersea earthquake that hit Japan in March was measured at magnitude 9.0 – one of the most powerful ever recorded.

The resulting tsunami destroyed all sources of power to cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, leading to core meltdowns in three of its six reactors. Workers have been struggling ever since to halt radioactive leakage into the ocean, air and soil around the plant.

More than 20,000 people are dead or missing from the earthquake and tsunami, and thousands more have been displaced from homes near the Fukushima plant.