At Fukushima Daiichi, amateurs left to clean up the mess

Creative Commons photo of Fukushima Daiichi

Fukushima Daiichi workers interviewed in Gendai Business, a Japanese business magazine,  remained anonymous for safety reasons as they expressed deep anxiety about being under-qualified and overworked at the Fukushima Daiichi disaster site. They said that the nuclear reactor situation is not under control, that amateurs and yakuza are working on the site without adequate guidance from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco).

Below are some excerpts I translated from the interview.

Amateurs and yakuza at the plant

Worker A: Just the other day, we had six people exposed to radiation when contaminated water leaked while people were exchanging hoses, but the leaks are mostly due to really basic mistakes. I’d say 80 – 90 per cent is about human error.

Worker B:
Worker morale at the site is low. Especially because of the high turnover, there’s not really a sense of responsibility here. The people I’m working with right now, their jobs before coming to Fukushima Daiichi were positions like working at a pub in Shinjuku (a district in downtown Tokyo), a pool lifeguard, a cram-school teacher, and a truck driver. They’re all amateurs. There’s not one expert among them.

Worker B: They've got to increase the number of workers here. In particular, they've got to bring experienced workers back to Fukushima.

Worker C: There was one company partnering with Tepco that made a ridiculously low bid, and that triggered a huge deflation of Fukushima Daiichi's labour costs. Among the workers, there are guys who were sent in because they owe money to the yakuza, and some others are desperately poor yakuza without options. At the worksite, there's nothing but yakuza and total amateurs...

Worker B: There was a journalist* who wrote in his book that a tenth of the workers at Fukushima Daiichi were yakuza, but it's certainly true that yakuza types have been increasing...it's a reality that you can't get people gathered here without the help of gangs. 

Worker D: In the first place, it's a mistake to let this company that never had a proper preparation plan to deal with the aftermath of the accident. Plus, they have a lot of pride, so they (the company) can't bow  their heads and admit that the situation is untenable. Even though the contaminated water keeps increasing, the workers keep decreasing.  Plus, even if there are policies to support children and victims of the earthquake disaster, there's nothing for the workers who have been exposed to radiation, so eventually, even the amateurs and yakuza will leave Fukushima Daiichi too. 

Worker C: Among the workers, there are the commuters and the ones who stay overnight, but once you enter a small subcontracting company, you can get held back at the site for 16 hours a day. It's a place of long hours, low wages, no overtime pay.

*Tomohiko Suzuki, Yakuza to Genpatsu (The yakuza and the nuclear power plant) Bungei Shunju, 2011.

A lack of direction 

Worker A: And even at the actual site, it’s incredibly rare that Tepco gives any kind of direct order. Or even if they do, it’s just like “Hurry up” or “We have no time.

Recently, Prime Minister Abe came here, but that was a huge inconvenience. Basically, Tepco told us, “We can’t let Mr. Abe see how dirty the site is. Clean up the rubble!” So we had to spend a whole week cleaning up. How stupid it is that we had to stall our work because of cleaning? What the Prime Minsiter saw isn’t the real Fukushima Daiichi.

I know at the time we got the Tokyo Olympics, Prime Minister Abe said, 'We’ve got the situation under control,' but I really wonder what he’s talking about. On the contrary, I think the workers that the general contractors have assembled (at Fukushima Daiichi) will eventually be taken away for Olympic-related construction. Prime Minister Abe is really too irresponsible.

Worker B: As for contaminated water leaking from the tank, there's no way to tell once it starts raining. I can't tell the difference if it's leaked water or just rainwater. As for the underground water, I can't even imagine. There's a lot of water in the gutter that clearly looks irradiated, but at first glance, it just looks like regular water.

Often I see the news report how many tons of contaminated water was leaking, but the number reported in the news is too low. When the hurricane recently landed, the huge amount of rain nearly caused the water in the gutter to leak, so we dumped all that in the ocean. I was chastised for not measuring the radiation levels first, but we purposely don't measure that. Depending on how high that registers, it would be a crime.

Excerpts from 福島第一原発作業員 緊急座談会「汚染水処理の現場はヤクザとど素人だけになった」, Gendai Business, October 2013

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