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Posts Tagged ‘Fukushima 50

The Fukushima 50? Or the Fukushima 18,846?

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Japanese police man a checkpoint near the edge of the contaminated exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station near Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool

A new article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has exposed the large-scale and mostly invisible sub-contracting of labour in the international nuclear power industry. The article examines what has happened during the clean-up process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and reveals exploitation of labour which is indefensible and criminal in view of the extreme hazards at the site following the 11 March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

The reference to the 18,846 workers comes at the very end of the long and dense status sheet for 2011 December.

‘Nuclear nomads: A look at the subcontracted heroes’, By Gabrielle Hecht explains in dreadful detail how: during much of the cleanup process at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, thousands of subcontracted day laborers will be exposed to levels of ionising radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits; how sub-contracted labourers account for some 90% of Japanese nuclear power plant workers during normal reactor operations; they often receive around three times the annual dose absorbed by a full-time plant employee; and how the sub-contracting approach within the nuclear industry carries exceptional risks and implications. Until these are recognised and documented, complex social and physiological realities will continue to be hidden.

The heroism of the ‘Fukushima 50’ – the plant and emergency workers who exposed themselves to extremely high radiation levels to get the reactors under control – was celebrated by the international media. But, during much of the clean-up process, thousands of workers were exposed to levels of ionising radiation well in excess of internationally recommended annual limits. Rather, in what amounts to premeditated and criminal negligence by the Government of Japan and by the power plant operator, Tepco, exposure limits were raised for both workers and the public, presumably in an attempt to reduce the number of cases that need to be documented as overexposures.

[See the 2011 December status document released by Tepco here (pdf)] [See the Fukushima nuclear emergency page for extensive background coverage, documents and material.] [See the running post on Fukushima for reportage and insights.]

In ‘Nuclear Nomads’ Hecht has asked: “So how many emergency workers are there anyway, and who are they?” A new document released by Tepco in December 2011 shows that over 18,000 men had participated in clean-up work by early December 2011. Some hailed the workers as “national heroes,” men willing to sacrifice their lives for the future of their nation. A few investigative reporters and scholars, however, uncovered a different story. The vast majority of these men are subcontract employees, recruited among local residents rendered unemployed by the disaster, or among the thousands of day laborers who eke out an existence in the margins of Japanese cities.

The Unit 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, Japan Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Media allowed into Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time then saw a striking scene of devastation: twisted and overturned vehicles, crumbling reactor buildings and piles of rubble virtually untouched since the wave struck more than eight months earlier. Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool

‘Nuclear Nomads’ has quoted one such worker: “If [day labourers] refuse, where will they get another job?… I don’t know anyone who is doing this [cleanup work] for Japan. Most of them need the money.” Cleanup workers are issued with dosimeters, and are checked at the end of each shift. Unskilled temps get paid about US$130 a day. Many don’t have written employment contracts. When they reach their exposure limit, they lose their jobs and are replaced, ideally, by non-exposed workers. Some have opted to prolong their employment by leaving dosimeters behind while working.

The overview of the status of countermeasures at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1-4 issued by Tepco in 2011 December.

The article by Hecht lists implications of the sub-contracting approach to reactor maintenance:

(1) Greater exposure. As for the accident cleanup crew, the short-term financial incentive for the temps is to abandon their dosimeters for certain jobs, so that their radiation exposures are not officially recorded. This prolongs their employment – and increases their doses.

(2) No occupational disease. Subcontract workers are often dubbed nuclear nomads because they move around from workplace to workplace, living out of trailers. There’s no compulsory centralised system for tracking cumulative exposure and health data for these temps. The absence of interactions among labor, information, and health infrastructures means that workers’ health problems are not collected and recorded in a centralized database — thus, many severe health problems never qualify as occupational diseases. Workers rarely — if ever — benefit from compensation, because their diseases cannot be linked to past exposures in ways that are scientifically or legally persuasive.

(3) Collective dose. Utilities don’t include the exposures of temp workers in their own data. That, in turn, means that data for any given nuclear power plant vastly under-reports the true collective dose (i.e., the total exposure received by the sum of both utility and subcontract workers).

“We’re not talking about a small portion of Japan’s nuclear workforce,” Hecht has said in ‘Nuclear Nomads’. “Since the late 1980s, some 90 percent of nuclear power plant workers in the country have been subcontracted. Estimates suggest that on average, during any one subcontracted job, a worker receives two to three times the annual dose absorbed by a regular plant worker.”


Written by makanaka

January 10, 2012 at 14:00

Fukushima nuclear emergency, Japan

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08 February 2017: A month short of six years after the 11 March Fukushima disaster began unfolding, the situation at the nuclear power plant has entered a new phase of danger, one which modern industrial civilisation has no experience with and very little knowledge about.

The highest radiation level at Fukushima is now much higher than the highest ever measured at Chernobyl, which was 300 sieverts per hour, an inconceivably high dose which can kill a person almost instantly. Radiation is usually measured in thousandths of a sievert, called millisieverts. For example, most people receive around 2.4 millisieverts per year from background radiation, or only 0.0002739726 per hour.

But a radiation level of 530 sieverts per hour has just been measured at Fukushima’s number 2 reactor. This new record at Fukushima is 70% higher than that of Chernobyl. (The highest level previously measured at Fukushima was 73 sieverts per hour, in March 2012.) The leakage of highly radioactive water has been continuing every day, a daily flow of radioactively contaminated groundwater into the ocean. The estimates are of about 300,000 litres per day of relatively low-level radioactive waste water. But there are storage tanks with 800,000 tons of highly radioactive water, as every day about 100 tons of water are poured on the three melted down cores.

18 December 2011: You will find the Updates archive, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Street lights shine in the abandoned town of Iitate, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. Residents were forced to evacuate the town after radiation levels from the leaking plant exceeded those inside the exclusion zone. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

More than nine months have passed since the 11 March earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan and triggered a still-unresolved disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. This set of news reports, news features and editorial in the Mainichi Daily News reveals the chronic deception and criminal corporate irresponsibility that continue to hinder all meaningful effort to mitigate the meltdown, and to obstruct at all costs the truth.

Mainichi Daily News has said that the government has declared a stable “cold shutdown” at the plant, representing a major milestone in its handling of the disaster. The public has keenly waited for the nuclear reactors to be brought under stable control, but Japan is still standing on thin ice and is miles away from a situation where it can really declare that the crisis is under control.

In the meantime, rebuilding the lives of residents near the crippled plants has been an urgent critical challenge. On the occasion of its latest political declaration, the government needs to renew its resolve to settle the crisis and achieve regional recovery. The disaster-hit reactors are certainly now in a more stable condition. However, the phrase “cold shutdown” usually refers to suspension of a sound reactor. The fact that the government is attempting to apply this term in a severe accident in which three reactors have suffered core meltdowns should be called into question. The government should rather explain in detail the possibility of any additional explosions and whether a recriticality accident has been ruled out.

Police on duty at a roadblock at the edge of the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, at Namie, in northeast Japan. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

Simulations suggest that nuclear fuel has melted inside the reactor containment vessels, eroding their concrete floors. Although Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear plant, has indicated that melted fuel has also been cooled down by water, this is nothing but speculation. We urge the utility and the government to find a way to ascertain the precise condition of the fuel.

Mainichi Daily News has reported that conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station. “Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.

An earthquake-damaged grave is seen at a cemetery in the abandoned town of Katsurao, outside the 20 kilometre exclusion zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, in northeast Japan. The town was abandoned when radiation levels became unsafe for long term exposure. Nov. 20, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Greg Baker

For example, the no-entry zones around the plant – the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities – have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says. The situation at the plant itself is no better, where he says much of the work is simply “for show,” fraught with corporate jealousies and secretiveness and “completely different” from the “all-Japan” cooperative effort being presented by the government.

“Reactor makers Toshiba and Hitachi (brought in to help resolve the crisis) each have their own technology, and they don’t talk to each other. Toshiba doesn’t tell Hitachi what it’s doing, and Hitachi doesn’t tell Toshiba what it’s doing.” Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said. “Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying.

At a Tokyo market, a smartphone shows radiation test results by the grower of a package of Maitake mushrooms, showing them as free of radioactive contamination. Many consumers worry about the safety of food from Fukushima and surrounding prefectures, although produce and fish found to be above government-set limits for contamination are barred from the market. Mushrooms, for example, harvested in and around Fukushima are frequently found to be contaminated and barred from the market. Sept. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / Shizuo Kambayashi

Kenichi Oshima is currently a professor at Ritsumeikan University. After long years of nuclear power research, he had learned that the actual cost of maintaining nuclear power in Japan was twice as high as what government and electric power companies had publicly announced, the Mainichi Daily News has reported. In March 2010, published his findings in a book, but found himself under fire at a time when pro-nuclear energy was becoming even stronger. In September the same year, during a meeting of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, his comments were rejected and even mocked. “Do you call this research?” he was told and few even cared to look at his findings.

Following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Oshima’s situation drastically changed. He was selected as a member of two expert governmental committees to serve as a critical analyst of Japan’s current nuclear power stance. The group will openly release all internal debates and documents, Oshima says. He is now more optimistic than ever that the time to destroy the “cheap and safe” nuclear power myth will eventually come.

Workers in protective suits and masks wait to enter the emergency operation center at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in Okuma, Japan. Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: Mainichi Daily News / AP Photo / David Guttenfelder, Pool

A sober and critical editorial in the Mainichi Daily News has said that Britain has already abandoned developing fast-breeder nuclear reactors, and is set to give up nuclear fuel reprocessing as well. Moreover, its planned construction of a facility to dispose of radioactive waste including plutonium is likely to materialize even though it is still at a planning phase.

In contrast, there are no prospects that Japan can build a disposal facility. However, for Japan to call for operations at the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho to be carried out as planned, would be like putting the cart before the horse as it appears the country is incapable of building a disposal facility.

Plutonium is directly related to security issues. The U.K. possesses nuclear weapons but Japan does not. One may wonder whether Japan’s independence will be threatened if it abandons nuclear fuel recycling and loses its ability to produce plutonium. Even though it is an important point of contention the issue should not be used as a reason to underestimate the harm of plutonium.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano who is in charge of energy policy, Goshi Hosono, state minister for handling the nuclear crisis, and Yoshito Sengoku, second-in-command in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Policy Research Committee, have been hearing the views of experts on the issue. It is not enough for the government to talk only about the dream of “prosperity” built on dependence on nuclear power. Japan’s ability to overcome the mess that follows such prosperity is now being tested.

More updates, info links, video clips and pictures on the Japan emergency page.

Written by makanaka

March 17, 2011 at 22:20

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