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Crisis developing as shortage of Fukushima clean-up workers gets worse


“We’re headed toward a real crisis “

Under the worst scenario, experienced workers capable of supervising the work will be gone as they reach their radiation-exposure limits

Stricken nuke plant struggles on, Yahoo 7 Finance, AAP  Jun 10, 2013 Keeping the meltdown-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan in stable condition requires a cast of thousands.

Increasingly the plant’s operator is struggling to find enough workers, a trend that many expect to worsen and hamper progress in the decades-long effort to safely decommission it.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), the utility that runs the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that melted down in March 2011 after being hit by a tsunami, is finding that it can barely meet the headcount of workers required to keep the three broken reactors cool while fighting power outages and leaks of tons of radiated water, said current and former nuclear plant workers and others familiar with the situation at Fukushima…….less risky, better paid decontamination projects in the region irradiated by the Fukushima meltdown are another draw.

Some Fukushima veterans are quitting as their cumulative radiation exposure approaches levels risky to health, said two long-time Fukushima nuclear workers who spoke to The Associated Press.

They requested anonymity because their speaking to the media is a breach of their employers’ policy and they say being publicly identified will get them fired…………..

Plant operators farm out the running of their facilities to contractors, who in turn find the workers, and also rely on lower-level contractors to do some of their work, resulting in as many as five layers of contractors.  Utilities such as TEPCO know the final headcount – 3,000 people now at Fukushima Dai-ichi – but not the difficulties in meeting it.

TEPCO does not release a pay scale at Fukushima Dai-ichi or give numbers of workers forced to leave because of radiation exposure.It does not keep close tabs on contracting arrangements for its workers.

A December 2012 survey of workers that the company released found 48 per cent were from companies not signed as contractors with the utility and the workers were falsely registered under companies that weren’t employing them. It is not clear if any laws were broken, but the government and TEPCO issued warnings to contractors to correct the situation.

Hiroyuki Watanabe, a city assemblyman for Iwaki in Fukushima, who talks often to Fukushima Dai-ichi workers, believes the labour shortage is only likely to worsen. “They are scrounging around, barely able to clear the numbers,” he said.

“Why would anyone want to work at a nuclear plant, of all places, when other work is available?” According to Watanabe, a nuclear worker generally earns about 10,000 yen ($A96) a day. In contrast, decontamination work outside the plant, generally involving less exposure to radiation, is paid for by the environment ministry, and with bonuses for working a job officially categorised as dangerous, totals about 16,000 yen ($A160) a day, he said…….

Other jobs are already so plentiful that securing enough workers for even the more lucrative work decontaminating the towns around the plant is impossible, according to Fukushima Labour Bureau data.

During the first quarter of this year, only 321 jobs got filled from 2,124 openings in decontamination, which involves scraping soil, gathering foliage and scrubbing walls to bring down radiation levels……….

“We’re headed toward a real crisis,” said Ryuichi Kino, a freelance writer and photographer who has authored books about the nuclear disaster and has reported on TEPCO intensively since March 2011.

Under the worst scenario, experienced workers capable of supervising the work will be gone as they reach their radiation-exposure limits, said Kino.

He believes an independent company separate from TEPCO needs to be set up to deal with the decommissioning, to make sure safety is not being compromised and taxpayer money is spent wisely.



June 12, 2013 - Posted by | employment, Fukushima 2013, Japan

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