Friday, January 27, 2012

#Fukushima I Nuke Plant: Full of Untrained, Migrant Workers, TEPCO Says Subcontractors Are Supposed to Train Them

Tokyo Shinbun is a regional newspaper covering Kanto region of Japan. It has been reporting on the Fukushima accident and resultant radiation contamination in a more honest and comprehensive manner than any national newspaper. (Their only shortcoming is that their links don't seem to last for more than a week.)

Their best coverage on the subject, though, is not available digitally but only in the printed version of the newspaper. But no worry, as there is always someone who transcribes the article and post it on the net for anyone to see.

In the 2nd half of the January 27 article, Tokyo Shinbun details what kind of workers are currently working at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant: migrant workers young (in their 20's) and not so young (in their 60's), untrained, $100 a day. Some of them cannot even read and write.

From Tokyo Shinbun (1/27/2012):

(The first half of the article is asbout Mr. Osumi, the first worker to die in May last year after the plant "recovery" work started. About him and his Thai wife, please read my post from July 11, 2011.)


Low wages


The relationship between the cause of Mr. Osumi's death and radiation exposure is unknown. However, it is still the radiation exposure that is most worrisome for the workers who work at Fukushima I Nuke Plant to wind down the accident. The radiation exposure limit was lowered back to the normal "maximum 50 millisieverts per year" and "100 millisieverts in 5 years" on December 16 last year. It was done on the declaration of "the end of the accident" by Prime Minister Noda that day.


The radiation exposure limit was raised to 250 millisieverts per year right after the accident, as a special measure. The Ministry of Health and Labor argued that the number was based on the international standard for a severe accident which was 500 millisieverts. But the real purpose was to increase the number of hours that can be put in by the workers and to increase the number of workers to promptly wind down the accident.


However, as the prime minister wanted to appeal "the end of the accident", the limit was lowered back to the normal limit.


According to TEPCO, the radiation exposure levels of workers exceeded [annualized?] 250 millisieverts in some cases right after the accident, but since April it has been within 100 millisieverts.


However, the workers voice concerns over the safety management. One of the subcontract workers told the newspaper:


"Right now, 70% of workers at the plant are migrant contract workers from all over Japan. Most of them have never worked at nuke plants before. The pay is 8000 yen to 13,000 yen [US$104 to $170] per day. Most of them are either in their 20s who are finding it difficult to land on any job, or in their 60s who have "graduated" from the previous jobs."


As to the safety management, he said, "Before you start working at a nuclear power plant, you have to go through the "training before entering radiation control area". But in reality the training is ceremonial. The assumptions in the textbook do not match the real job site in an emergency situation. There were some who could not read, but someone else filled in the test for them at the end of the training."

■休む場所で 毎時12マイクロシーベルト

12 microsieverts/hour in the rest area


"Then the workers start working at the site. But there are not enough radiation control personnel who measure radiation levels in the high-radiation locations, and warn and instruct the workers. There are too many workers because the nature of the work is to wind down the accident. There are workers who take off their masks or who smoke even in the dangerous [high radiation] locations. I'm worried for their internal radiation exposures."


In the rest area where the workers eat lunch and smoke, the radiation level is 12 microsieverts/hour. "Among workers, we don't talk about radiation levels. There's no point."


The worker divulged to us, "For now, they've managed to get workers from all over Japan. But there won't be enough workers by summer, all bosses at the employment agencies say so." Local construction companies also admit [to the scarcity of workers by summer.]


"Local contractors who have been involved in the work at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant do not work there any more. It's dangerous, and there are jobs other than at the nuke plant, such as construction of temporary housing. The professional migrant workers who hop from one nuclear plant to another all over Japan avoid Fukushima I Nuke Plant. The pay is not particularly good, so what is the point of getting high radiation to the max allowed and losing the opportunity to work in other nuclear plants? So, it's mostly amateurs who work at the plant right now. Sooner or later, the supply of workers will dry up."


As to the working conditions and wage levels of the subcontract workers, TEPCO's PR person explains, "We believe the subcontracting companies are providing appropriate guidance." As to securing the workers, he emphasizes that "there is no problem at this point in sourcing enough workers. We will secure necessary workers depending on how the work progresses."


However, Katsuyasu Iida, Director General of Tokyo Occupational Safety and Health Center who have been dealing with the health problems of nuclear workers, points out, "Workers are made to work in a dangerous environment. The wage levels are going down, and there are cases of non-payment. It is getting harder to secure the workers."


He also says the safety management cannot be fully enforced by TEPCO alone, and demands the national government to step in. "They need to come up with the management system that include the subcontract workers. Unless they secure the [safe] work environment and work conditions, they cannot deal with the restoration work that may continue for a long while."

※ デスクメモ 福島第一原発での作業員は命懸けだ。それを一日八千円の報酬でこなしている労働者たちがいる。東電に籍のある「お抱え議員」は年収一千万円以上。原子力ムラの天下り役員たちも未だに健在だ。脱原発とは単なるエネルギー問題ではない。こうした「不条理」を放置するのか否かという問いでもある。

Memo from the desk [at Tokyo Shinbun]: Workers at Fukushima I Nuke Plant are risking their lives. Some are doing it for 8000 yen per day. A councilman who also happens to work for TEPCO earns more than 10 million yen [US$130,000] per year. Executives who "descended from heaven" to cushy jobs in the "nuclear energy village" are alive and well. To move away from nuclear power generation is not just about energy issues. It is to question whether we will continue to ignore such "absurdity".

Well said. Everybody in the nuclear industry in Japan knew that the industry depended (still does) on migrant workers who were (still are) hired on the cheap thorough layer after layer of subcontracting companies. Thanks to the Fukushima I Nuclear Plant accident, now the general public know that. But there are plenty of those who are still comfortable with the nuclear power generated by the nuclear power plants maintained at the expense of such workers and see nothing wrong with it.


Anonymous said...

Just saw this:

But Navrotsky and others have since discovered a new way in which seawater can corrode nuclear fuel, forming uranium compounds that could potentially travel long distances, either in solution or as very small particles. The research team published its work Jan. 23 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This is a phenomenon that has not been considered before,” said Alexandra Navrotsky, distinguished professor of ceramic, earth and environmental materials chemistry. “We don’t know how much this will increase the rate of corrosion, but it is something that will have to be considered in future.”

Anonymous said...

Inside the industry they are just called "gamma sponges".


Untrained unskilled migrant workers? Sounds very much like AMERICA. It's a sad state of affairs, both here and there.

Anonymous said...


Only a DIRTY SUBHUMAN INDIAN could spam a forum like this!

Atomfritz said...

Thank you for reporting on this big nuclear taboo!

Nuclear industry all over the world depends on these ignorant and cheap, often immigrant "gamma sponges".
Without them, they'd have to shut down the nuclear plants.
Because, nobody who knows about the dangers of the regular maintenance work in the hot areas will do this.

At least I know of no country in the world where the nuclear industry doesn't waste humans like that.

Anonymous said...

Well, this is what has been obvious in almost all past accidents in Japan - all human errors. Using a bucket to mix and collect radioactive material? No offense to the guys, but the first two who died because of the tsunami at the Fukushima plant were 20 year old high school graduates who have no specialized knowledge - if it's not the technology that undermines nuclear safety, it certainly is its management. We need specialists on a daily basis, not AFTER an accident.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Those high-school grads probably knew more about the plant than a TEPCO employee with a degree from a graduate school.

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