“Nuclear Gypsies” work in Japan’s $150-billion Fukushima radiation clean-up
Radiation, desperation and gangsters: Inside the hidden tragedy of Fukushima The Globe and Mail , 25 Oct 13 ANTONI SLODKOWSKI AND MARI SAITO IWAKI — Reuters , Oct. 25 2013 Tetsuya Hayashi went to Fukushima to take a job at ground zero of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. He lasted less than two weeks.
Hayashi, 41, says he was recruited for a job monitoring the radiation exposure of workers leaving the plant in the summer of 2012. Instead, when he turned up for work, he was handed off through a web of contractors and assigned, to his surprise, to one of Fukushima’s hottest radiation zones.
He was told he would have to wear an oxygen tank and a double-layer protective suit. Even then, his handlers told him, the radiation would be so high it could burn through his annual exposure limit in just under an hour.
“I felt cheated and entrapped,” Hayashi said. “I had not agreed to any of this.”
When Hayashi took his grievances to a firm on the next rung up the ladder of Fukushima contractors, he says he was fired. He filed a complaint but has not received any response from labour regulators for more than a year. All the eight companies involved, including embattled plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, declined to comment or could not be reached for comment on his case.
Out of work, Hayashi found a second job at Fukushima, this time building a concrete base for tanks to hold spent fuel rods. His new employer skimmed almost a third of his wages – about $1,500 a month – and paid him the rest in cash in brown paper envelopes, he says. Reuters reviewed documents related to Hayashi’s complaint, including pay envelopes and bank statements.
Hayashi’s hard times are not unusual in the estimated $150-billion effort to dismantle the Fukushima reactors and clean up the neighbouring areas, a Reuters examination found.
In reviewing Fukushima working conditions, Reuters interviewed more than 80 workers, employers and officials involved in the unprecedented nuclear clean-up. A common complaint: the project’s dependence on a sprawling and little scrutinized network of subcontractors – many of them inexperienced with nuclear work and some of them, police say, have ties to organized crime.
Tepco sits atop a pyramid of subcontractors that can run to seven or more layers and includes construction giants such as Kajima Corp and Obayashi Corp in the first tier. The embattled utility remains in charge of the work to dismantle the damaged Fukushima reactors, a government-subsidized job expected to take 30 years or more…..
The unprecedented Fukushima nuclear clean-up both inside and outside the plant faces a deepening shortage of workers. There are about 25 per cent more openings than applicants for jobs in Fukushima prefecture, according to government data……..
Hayashi is one of an estimated 50,000 workers who have been hired so far to shut down the nuclear plant and decontaminate the towns and villages nearby. Thousands more will have to follow. Some of the workers will be needed to maintain the system that cools damaged fuel rods in the reactors with thousands of tonnes (1 tonne = 1.102 metric tons) of water every day. The contaminated runoff is then transferred to more than 1,000 tanks, enough to fill more than 130 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Dismantling the Fukushima Daiichi plant will require maintaining a job pool of at least 12,000 workers just through 2015, according to Tepco’s blueprint. That compares to just over 8,000 registered workers now. In recent months, some 6,000 have been working inside the plant.
The Tepco hiring estimate does not include the manpower required for the government’s new $330-million plan to build a massive ice wall around the plant to keep radiated water from leaking into the sea.
“I think we should really ask whether they are able to do this while ensuring the safety of the workers,” said Shinichi Nakayama, deputy director of safety research at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency.
Japan’s nuclear industry has relied on cheap labour since the first plants, including Fukushima, opened in the 1970s. For years, the industry has rounded up itinerant workers known as “nuclear gypsies” from the Sanya neighborhood of Tokyo and Kamagasaki in Osaka, areas known for large numbers of homeless men.
“Working conditions in the nuclear industry have always been bad,” said Saburo Murata, deputy director of Osaka’s Hannan Chuo Hospital. “Problems with money, outsourced recruitment, lack of proper health insurance – these have existed for decades.”…….
The work in the plant can also be dangerous. Six workers in October were exposed to radioactive water when one of them detached a pipe connected to a treatment system. In August, 12 workers were irradiated when removing rubble from around one of the reactors. The accidents prompted Japan’s nuclear regulator to question whether Tepco has been delegating too much.
“Proper oversight is important in preventing careless mistakes. Right now Tepco may be leaving it all up to the subcontractors,” said the head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, Shunichi Tanaka in response to the recent accidents…………http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/radiation-desperation-and-gangsters-inside-the-hidden-tragedy-of-fukushima/article15083978/
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