Mr. Tomohiko Suzuki, journalist who went to work at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant last year to report how it really was in the plant, said the workers use a variety of ways to lower (i.e. fake) the radiation exposure as measured by their dosimeters. One of the ways is to simply hand the dosimeter to a person who is not entering the high-radiation areas; another way is to flip the dosimeter in the pocket so that it won't measure radiation as much.
Here's a new one, decidedly more effective. A subcontractor in Namie-machi, Fukushima who contracts work from one of the 1st-tier TEPCO subcontractors supposedly told its workers to cover their dosimeters with lead plates when working at the plant last year.
Asahi Shinbun reveals in the article below (7/21/2012) that the paper obtained the recording of the company's executive telling workers to do so:
Lead plate on dosimeter, a TEPCO subcontractor instructed the workers to fake radiation exposure at the plant
It has been revealed that a senior executive of a subcontractor instructed its workers to cover their dosimeters with lead plates several millimeters thick for the work ordered by TEPCO for the restoration of Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant last December. It was done to disguise the radiation exposure levels of the workers, whose upper limit is set by the regulations. More than one worker has admitted to Asahi Shinbun that they worked with the lead cover over their dosimeters. The senior executive denies that he ever instructed the workers and that the lead cover was used.
Asahi Shinbun has obtained the recording that shows a senior executive (age 54) of the subcontractor "Build Up", which is a medium-sized construction company in Fukushima Prefecture. The exchange between the executive and the workers took place at night on December 2 last year, at a ryokan [Japanese-style hotel, inn] in Iwaki City in Fukushima where the workers were staying. One of the workers recorded the exchange with his cellphone.
On the previous day, the executive had told the team of 10 workers to cover their pocket-sized dosimeter "APD" with lead cover. 3 workers had refused. So on the night of December 2 a talk was held between the company [the executive] and the 3 workers. The executive denies what's in the recording, but more than one worker who were at the scene confirms the facts.
Asahi's subscriber-only section has the actual transcript of the conversation that took place between the executive and the workers. Two additional articles (also subscriber-only) give the detailed background that led to this request. Reading them, I just feel sorry for the executive and the workers.
The company was contracted to put insulation around the pipes near Reactors 1, 2, 3 and 4 that carry contaminated water from the turbine buildings, so that the pipes wouldn't rupture or leak from the freeze.
From the transcript of the recording (Asahi articles here and here, subscription-only; you can subscribe for free and read up to three articles per day):
To explain it to you simply, everyone working for a nuke plant knows it is OK to be exposed up to 50 millisieverts per year. This 50 millisieverts limit is for each person. Then, for people like us, who work at the nuke plant all year round, 50 millisieverts is 50 millisieverts, and if we're exposed to too much radiation it won't last a year, frankly. [50 millisieverts] is up in 3, 4 months. So, unless we protect our own radiation exposure limit we cannot work at the plant and earn our living for one year. If we can't work at the plant, we don't have any other work. We've been working at the nuke plant for decades. Only at the nuke plant. So the thing is how we protect our radiation exposure [allowance].
If this radiation [allowance] is depleted, we can't earn our living. Do you understand? 50 millisieverts will just decrease.
I'm fully aware that we shouldn't be doing this. I'm not forcing anyone who doesn't want to do it.
When one of the workers said "I think it is almost a crime", the senior executive countered:
Have I forced you to do it? All I'm saying is if you understand the situation and willingly do it for yourself, then please do it. I will do it because I want to protect my radiation [allowance].
If we don't shield [the radiation] with lead, we will lose our radiation [allowance] and there will be no more work.
It looks these three workers had never worked at any nuclear power plant until they started working for this contractor. The senior executive at one point told them:
だから、よそでやれる人はいいよ。別にそんなことしなくったって。でしょ？ ちょこっと来てやって。あと原発の仕事なんかする必要ねえと思ってる人、ね？ だけど、俺らは年間通してずっとやってる。１年、２年、３年と継続してやってるわけだから、ドンドン累積されっちゃうと、原発の仕事できなくなっちゃうよ。
As I said, people who can work outside nuclear plants are OK. Don't need to do it, right? Those people who come to work for a short time and no need to work at a nuke plant afterwards. But we've been working all year round. One year, two years, three years, we work continuously [at the nuke plant]. If radiation exposure accumulates we cannot work at the nuke plant.
Some Japanese bloggers are accusing the subcontractor and this executive for forcing the workers to fake the radiation exposure (even if it was technically a non-enforceable "request").
According to NHK News who reported on the same topic, specifically naming the company (which is highly unusual for NHK):
The executive allegedly explained to the president of the company that when he went to survey the location before the work, he was surprised at the alarm of his survey meter sounding off, indicating the rapidly rising radiation levels, that he wanted to make the radiation exposure levels look lower, and that 9 workers used lead covers once.
NHK also says the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor is investigating the company.
Two levels removed, TEPCO sits pretty with plausible deniability. TEPCO doesn't force any subcontractors to fake the radiation levels. The subcontractors themselves do, each deciding what is best for the company in order to secure the work for the workers and to get the job done.
No one investigates TEPCO. No one will, as it is now practically owned by the national government.
The nuclear power plants in Japan have been supported by the companies like this Namie-machi subcontractor. Without them, there would have been no nuclear power plant, anywhere in Japan. And now, without them, there will soon be no skilled workers at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. And who is going to decommission all the other nuclear power plants in Japan? Decommissioning the plants cannot happen all at the same time.
PM NOda declared the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident "over" in December last year, soon after these workers insulated the pipes around Reactors 1 through 4, wearing dosimeters covered with lead plates. And his government goes after this subcontractor. What a joke.