Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tokyo Shinbun: Worker Who Tweeted from #Fukushima I Nuke Plant, and His Two Years of Being Jerked Around by TEPCO and Government

The worker who tweeted for two years from Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant is no longer there, but he was recently interviewed by Tokyo Shinbun. He shared his first-hand knowledge of how it was like to work at a nuclear plant that went spectacularly bust, under the conflicting and useless direction from both TEPCO Headquarters in Tokyo and the national government under then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

People on Japanese Twitter, blogs, and message boards have been accusing the worker whose Twitter name is "Happy" as TEPCO agent of disinformation. I've been following him and reading his tweets, but I don't get that feeling. As far as I know, he is a worker at either one of the first-tier subcontractors or one of the major local subcontractors of a first-tier subcontractor.

In the interview with Tokyo Shinbun, "Happy" describes what was effectively "TEPCO that couldn't say no".

"Prime Minister says 'Work 24 hours a day', so do something!"

Instead of shielding the workers at the plant from the ignorant politicians and bureaucrats so that they could do the job, TEPCO headquarters was nothing more than a messenger boy.

Then the national government under the Democratic Party of Japan interfered with the work for their convenience, and it was not just Naoto Kan. "Happy" says the probe of Reactor 2's Containment Vessel was originally scheduled in December 2011, but since then-Prime Minister Noda needed to declare "cold shutdown state" (to the snicker and ridicule around the world except at IAEA and NRC) and he didn't want to have a potentially dangerous work during that month, the DPJ government told TEPCO to delay the work until after the New Year.

From Tokyo Shinbun, as archived at Asyura (5/5/2013; as article links don't last long at Tokyo Shinbun):

つぶやく福島作業員 政府・東電に振り回された2年間 (東京新聞)

Worker Who Tweeted from Fukushima I Nuke Plant, and His Two Years of Being Jerked Around by TEPCO and Government

東京電力福島第一原発事故の発生当初から収束作業に従事し、現場の様子をツイッターでつぶやき続け、その内容を七万超の人が注目している「ハッピー」さん。福島第一の近くに家があり、作業員としてここで長年働いてきた。このほど本紙の取材に応じ、二年間を超える収束作業で感じた疑問などを語った。 (片山夏子)

He worked at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant since the beginning of the nuclear accident and tweeted the situation. His tweets as "Happy" are followed by more than 70,000 people. His home is near the plant, and has worked at the plant for many years. We interviewed him recently, and he told us what he thought during the past two years of his effort to control the situation.


It's like a war zone.


When the hydrogen explosion happened in the Reactor 3 building on March 14, 2011, "Happy" was working nearby. The ground shook with deafening explosion, and debris rained on him.


"I may die here."


It was like a war zone. Smoke rose from the reactor building, and there were people who were coated with black soot, and whose protection gear was bloody. People were shouting. It didn't seem real.


"Happy" started to tweet on March 20, six days after that hydrogen explosion.


There were two reasons. First, communication was garbled and confused [in the early days of the accident] and there were media reports that fanned fear. Second, he wanted to tell his acquaintance who lived in Minamisoma City in Fukushima with small child[ren] that "there is no need to worry too much", by calmly describing what was happening at the plant.


His tweets are unique. He calls himself "oira", writes "deshi" instead of "desu" [in closing a sentence]. In the beginning, many of his readers were mothers with children, who replied to him saying "You helped me", "You saved me".


Life is on the back burner


Many of "Happy"'s tweets include frank doubts he felt as he worked at the plant, toward the government and TEPCO.


He was irritated each time the national government and TEPCO showed optimistic prospect without basis, or made presentations without full explanation. He says he felt not telling the facts was fanning the fear.


He was also annoyed at the instructions without coordinating the work processes, which caused confusion in the early days of the accident. [At one time] electrical work and pipe work were scheduled on the same location at the same time, and one of the work couldn't be done.


The result of the confusion is still visible in many places at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant even after two years. Hoses to transfer contaminated water, power cable and control cables for equipments are installed in a messy way in the same location, for example. Even if it was an emergency, there is a possibility of malfunctioning and short circuit.


"Prime Minister says 'Work 24 hours a day', so do something!" was one of the instructions to the plant. So they set up 24-hour shifts, but work efficiency suffered.


He was bothered by the time schedule of work published every month without considering the situation at the plant. At one time, he was told to hurry up the work because the national government had already publicly announced it, and he was called to the site in the middle of the night even though no preparation had been made.


He almost fainted a number of times during the summer with full protective gear. He was told to "rest", but the time schedule for work remained the same. He felt that life and safety of the workers were put on the back burner.


Cost comes first


In September 2011, a piece of information reached "Happy" that the national government and TEPCO [HQ] were going to create a new word by combining "cold shutdown" and "state" and declare within the year that Fukushima I Nuke Plant achieved "cold shutdown state".


But they didn't know the condition of the melted fuel. Reactor cooling could stop, not just because of the pump failures but also because of clogged or broken pipes. Thermometers attached to the reactors had started to behave erratically. How could anyone say the temperature inside the reactors is below 100 degrees Celsius? "Happy" thought, "Cold shutdown cannot be happening."


Then in November, he heard that they were going to declare, in addition, "end of the accident" [restoration of the plant to the normal state].


"That cannot be", he thought, but the work to drill a hole in the Reactor 2 Containment Vessel, which had been scheduled in December, was delayed until after the New Year. Other dangerous works that could mar the declaration started to get postponed.


The work at the plant had been at the mercy of the politicians before. "There is an election coming, so don't do dangerous work until after the election." "Minister in charge will go on an overseas trip the day after tomorrow, so finish the work within today."


After the declaration of end of the accident, there were more work contracts whose priority was to cut costs, and employment condition for the workers deteriorated with the cut in hazard bonus and pay. Many of the pieces of equipment that were installed at Fukushima I Nuke Plant after the accident were temporary, without ample consideration for maintenance. When he [his company] suggested to TEPCO that they should be replaced with durable [permanent] ones, the suggestion was often turned down by TEPCO, who said "There is no budget".


"Happy" doubts if TEPCO could rebuild itself and end the accident at the same time. With cost cutting as a priority, experienced workers won't come to work at the plant because their employment is not stable, and the decommissioning work won't make progress, he fears.


"No matter how much taxpayers' money the national government pours in, it simply becomes TEPCO's debt. Since TEPCO remains as a private company, it naturally puts cost-cutting as priority. As such, decommissioning won't make much progress. It is the nuclear accident that has shaken the entire world, and the government and TEPCO should create a new organization that focus only on ending the accident and move aggressively."

(First-pass quick translation, subject to change later.)

The nuclear accident that has shaken the world seems to have been forgotten by most people in the world, particularly those in emerging nations like Vietnam and Turkey, who want Japanese-made nuclear reactors and plants in their respective country, probably because of Fukushima. They think Japan has learned a lot from the accident (which in their mind is probably long over) and the knowledge and the expertise from the accident will be highly beneficial for their countries' push for nuclear energy.

And so it goes, until next time.


Apolline said...

Very interesting. I translate. Thank you for your own translation.

netudiant said...

A classic.
What seems clear is that no one commands confidence, either at TEPCO or at the government. Everybody in the hierarchies is caught in a permanent PR mode, putting lipstick on the pig. The only people who can tell it like it is are the people who work there, but most of them don't dare, because they need the job and the money.
There is no solution that I can see, because even if the government took direct control of the site, they would still be reliant on the same contractors. Hanford in the US proves that approach ensures the site will be perpetually on the brink of disaster, because that keep the maximum money flowing to the contractors.

netudiant said...

The solution would be to have someone get an Imperial mandate to fix the problem.
That would clear the lines of authority even in Japan, at least I hope, as well as clarify the human and social costs of this disaster.
The Emperor seems to be one of the few who really gets it that this is an ongoing cancer on the body politic, but whether he can break out of his gilded cage to save the country is an open question.

Anonymous said...

Since his children and grandchildren are exposed, would think its a priority. Any word on the health (asthma ??) of the young princess? Or others in the family? Guess we will see 'mental or stress' appied to any issues the Japanese government wants hidden.

Apolline said...

Arnie Gundersen, march 11, 2013 :

US responsible for the disaster, too.
Very good analysis from Arnie.

J said...

What happened to Happy? Why did he leave Fukushima plant? was he in ill health? Or was he fired? The original Tokyo Shinbun article doesn't say he doesn't work there any longer - but I'm not following his Twitter account very carefully so you must have seen him say something about leaving. Please let us know if you find out what happened to him with TEPCO.

And thanks always for your amazing work - working with two languages and carefully sieving through information. I don't agree with all of your political opinions (like your support for EPA-bashing, let-nuclear-industry-reign-itself-with-no-regulation-whatsoever Ron Paul earlier in 2012 - ok let's not get into that) but aside from that, I feel you are doing such a fantastic job informing all of us and I cannot say enough about how much I appreciate you. Please keep it up! Take good care, kenko ni ki o tsukete, kore kara mo ganbatte kudasai.

VyseLegendaire said...

So Happy confirms all of our suspicions up until now. We really are toast if Tepco is not somehow removed from this job, and the government not allowed to lord over whoever is in charge.

arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Happy said he was leaving the plant at the end of March. He didn't elaborate on the reason. No indication he was fired, or ill health. He says he's not working right now. He seems to be in good spirits now as he was at the plant.

It could be the "100 millisieverts in 5 years" limit for radiation workers. Even as TEPCO kept 250 millisieverts/5 years special limit for their employees, many subcontractor balked, I heard, and they kept the old standard (which is now the standard again) of 100 mill/5 year for their workers.

It sure looks the workers like him who have worked at nuclear power plants, particularly at Fuku I, since before the accident are the ones with an "end-state" vision...

citizenperth said...

Nice work... ty...... continue on...

citizenperth said...

I too saw from the outset against this Crisis.. indeed.. I saw the live footage swallow traffic... I have followed #happy with the same err of caution, and I watched as you changed your page from Financial advice to following the crisis... Kudos to you Sir....

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