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Break with Nuclear Power
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Subcontracted workers at Fukushima N-plant subject to severe health risks

August 13,2011
Akahata editorial (excerpts)

Highly-radioactive compartments have been found at TEPCO’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Subcontract workers are tackling the crisis in spite of the severe health risks even five months after the outbreak of the nuclear crisis.

NPPs are maintained by only a handful of power company employees and a large number of subcontract workers. At the Fukushima NPP, about 1,000 TEPCO employees and more than 9,000 subcontractors were working there before the accident occurred.

Normally, to operate NPPs does not require much manpower because a central control system at the plant controls the nuclear reactors and all associated equipment. However, during the period of time of regular inspections at N-reactors, basically once every thirteen months, N-plant operators hire a massive number of temporary, subcontract laborers. They check and repair measuring devices and pipes contaminated with radiation inside the reactors. They also scoop radioactive sludge out of the reactor. Any work that has a high possibility of exposure to radiation is done mainly by these subcontracted laborers.

The Japan Federation of Bar Associations on August 4 held a symposium in Tokyo on issues pertaining to nuclear plant workers. Japanese Communist Party member of the Iwaki City Assembly in Fukushima Prefecture, Watanabe Hiroyuki at the symposium revealed the actual situation of subcontract workers. He said that the structure of using contract workers is multilayered, starting with the primary contractor at the top and going down to the sixth or sometimes to the seventh contractor at the bottom. Even though TEPCO pays 50,000-100,000 yen per contract worker in daily wages, the workers at the bottom receive only 6,500-12,000 yen. There exists a huge amount of intermediary exploitation. Watanabe said, “They work under harsh conditions while being exposed to radiation, but have no insurance that would cover possible health damage.”

TEPCO still uses subcontract laborers in the same way it used to do before the accident, but they are now being put to work on the effort to contain the ongoing nuclear crisis.

It has been reported that many workers have already been exposed to high amounts of radiation, but they have not received appropriate internal exposure checkups. More than 500 subcontract firms have so far been engaged in the work. However, TEPCO does not have detailed information regarding the specific tasks assigned to workers who are employed by the different subcontractors. The utility has still not checked the radiation exposure levels of more than 800 workers. It cannot even establish contact with 143 of the temporary, subcontracted workers who had performed dangerous tasks there following the nuclear meltdowns. They are indeed being treated as “disposable” laborers.

It is essential to put an end to the intermediary exploitation and improve working conditions. The continued use of the multilayered contract structure itself must be reviewed. What is more, careful and thorough monitoring of radiation exposure should be carried out and compensation provided for any subsequent health damage.

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