Workers sue Tepco over hazard pay — NHK World; Fukushima fallout continues: now cleanup workers claim unpaid wages — The Guardian

NHK World reports, workers at Fukushima Daiichi are suing Tokyo Electric and sixteen other companies for not receiving promised additional pay for working in hazardous conditions. Their paychecks are shaved down as TEPCO compensation descends through a hierarchy of subcontractors. Watch NHK video.

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The Guardian:

” The legal net has started to tighten around the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as victims of the accident, and those responsible for clearing it up, take their grievances to the courts.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said it would not contend a court ruling ordering it to pay almost $500,000 in compensation to the family of a woman who killed herself two months after being forced to flee her home near the plant.

That claim, which could pave the way for similar suits, has been followed by a unprecedented attempt by four Fukushima Daiichi workers to sue the utility for unpaid wages.

The two former and two current workers, aged in their 30s to 60s, claim that Tepco and its contractors failed to ensure they were paid mandatory hazard allowances, on top of their regular wages.

In the first legal challenge of its kind against Tepco, the four men, who are not named and wore masks in court for fear of reprisals from their employers, are seeking $600,000 in unpaid wages from Tepco and several of its partner firms.

The men’s lawyer said he believed more could follow among the 6,000 workers – most of whom work for contractors – involved in the dangerous 40-year operation to decommission the plant.

“A year ago, the prime minister told the world that Fukushima was under control. But that’s not the case,” Tsuguo Hirota told Reuters. “Workers are not getting promised hazard pay and skilled workers are leaving. It’s becoming a place for amateurs only, and that has to worry anyone who lives near the plant.”

The hazardous nature of work to control the flow of radioactive water, and to prepare damaged reactors for the removal of melted nuclear fuel prompted Tepco to announce late last year that it would double daily danger money payments to $200 per worker.

But labourers employed by some of the 800 firms involved in decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi say the extra cash is being withheld by contractors and subcontractors, which claim they need the extra cash to keep their businesses afloat.

“My health could suffer one day … I believe there are many people who can’t speak out about this kind of problem,” one of the workers told public broadcaster NHK. “I may get fired or may be given no more work. But I hope people will take this as an opportunity to speak up and get paid.”

The suits have opened a new front in the legal battle against Tepco, which is expected to pay more than $48bn in compensation to residents affected by the March 2011 disaster, and billions more on decontamination and decommissioning.

Last month, a citizens’ judicial panel ruled that three former Tepco executives should face criminal charges over the disaster. Prosecutors must respond to the panel by next month. ”

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Tokyo contaminated and not fit for habitation, doctor says — Institute of Science in Society

” All 23 districts of Tokyo contaminated with radiation, worse than at Chernobyl after the accident, and blood cells of children under ten are showing worrying changes; the WHO, the IAEA & the Japanese government cannot be trusted. – Susie Greaves 

” In July 2014 Dr Shigeru Mita wrote a letter to his fellow doctors (read letter) to explain his decision to move his practice from Tokyo to Okayama city in the West of Japan [1]. In it, he appeals to their sense of duty to answer the anxieties of parents in Japan who do not believe the information coming from the authorities. He says “I must state that the policies of the WHO, the IAEA or the Japanese government cannot be trusted.” and “if the power to save our citizens and future generations exists somewhere, it does not lie within the government or any academic association, but in the hands of individual clinical doctors ourselves.”

Mita claims that all 23 districts of Tokyo are contaminated, with the eastern area worst affected – up to 4 000 Bq/kg. (The becquerel is a unit of radioactivity. One Bq is the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second.) These findings confirm what the nuclear physicist Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds Nuclear Education found in 2012, when he picked up five random soil samples in Tokyo from between paving stones, in parks and playgrounds. The levels of contamination were up to 7 000 Bq/kg; in the US, anything registering these levels would be considered nuclear waste [2].

While practising in Tokyo, Mita also discovered changes in the white blood cells of children under 10.

Independent science & independent reporting in Japan outlawed

In December 2013, the Japanese parliament passed a bill whereby public officials and private citizens could face ten years in prison for divulging “special state secrets”, and journalists, five years, for seeking to obtain classified information. The bill is widely interpreted as a way of preventing sensitive information about Fukushima (among other topics) reaching the Japanese public and by extension the rest of the world [3].

The independent organisation Reporters without Borders has downgraded Japan in its world press freedom index from 22nd place in 2012, to 53rd in 2013 and to 59th in 2014, following the passing of the state secrets bill. Reporters without Borders say that Japan “has been affected by a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima” [4].

Nuclear lobby put in charge

Back in December 2012, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) whose mission is to promote the peaceful uses of the atom, signed agreements with Fukushima Prefecture, Fukushima Medical University and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. These “Practical Arrangements” have in effect, handed over the management of the post-accident situation at Fukushima and its health consequences to the nuclear lobby. Among other clauses regarding cooperation and funding, we read that “The Parties will ensure the confidentiality of information classified by the other Party as restricted or confidential” [5].

But this should come as no surprise. Anyone who doubts the heavy hand of the nuclear lobby in the “management” (i.e. minimisation) of nuclear accidents should read the account by the physicist Bella Belbéoch entitled “Western responsibility regarding the health consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe in Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia” [6]. The initial Soviet cover up of the accident is well known. Less well known are the “stages of submission” in which the IAEA forced the Soviets to accede to their demands to minimise estimates of the health effects of the accident. In a series of manipulations and bullying tactics, they forced the Soviet officials to divide their estimates of the health effects by a factor of 10. One Soviet delegate, Legassov, committed suicide, a few days after he capitulated to the IAEA demands, on the 26th April 1988, the second anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.

A travesty of reporting on risks and cancers

How has the nuclear lobby reacted to Fukushima? A preliminary assessment published in 2012 by the World Health Organisation (but actually emanating from the IAEA) managed to draw optimistic conclusions, while ignoring two critical groups, the workers at the TEPCO plant, and the people who were evacuated from the immediate area (See [7] WHO Report on Fukushima a Travesty SiS 55). Then in 2013, the UNSCEAR report [8] described the risks of people developing thyroid cancer, leukaemia and breast cancer as barely discernible, even though the rates of childhood thyroid cancer in Fukushima prefecture are already 40 times what would be expected [9]. The UNSCEAR report has been criticised by the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War because it consistently underestimates the radiation dose received, underestimates internal radiation, ignores the vulnerability of the human embryo to radiation, ignores hereditary effects, ignores the unreliability of the dose received by workers at the stricken plant, and only considers some cancers as potential health effects, whereas the experience of Chernobyl shows that every vital organ and system of the body is affected [10].

Raising the ‘safe’ limit of radiation

The Japanese people are faced with a government whose response to the dangers of the radiation was to increase the acceptable limit from 1 mSv/year to 20 mSv/year and who are now encouraging people to move back into areas that had previously been evacuated. (The millisievert is a unit of radiation dose. Before the Fukushima accident, Japan, like the rest of the world, respected the limit of 1 mSv/year recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP).) Meanwhile, the nuclear lobby wants to see the resumption of nuclear power in Japan as quickly as possible. This is not an atmosphere in which doctors are encouraged to report health effects that could be the result of radiation, and certainly not in Tokyo, whose residents have been led to believe that they have nothing to fear.

Changes in white blood cells in children

Mita began work as a general practitioner in Tokyo in the 1990s. In the letter to his colleagues explaining his decision to move his practice from Tokyo to Okayama City, he claims that contamination in the eastern part of Tokyo is 1000-4000 Bq/kg and in the western part, 300-1000Bq/kg. He compares these levels with Kiev, in Ukraine, after the accident at Chernobyl, of 500 Bq/kg, and with measurements taken before the 2011 Fukushima accident at Shinjuku, the site of the Tokyo municipal government of 0.5 – 1.5 Bq/kg. He says that “Tokyo should no longer be inhabited, and that those who insist on living in Tokyo must take regular breaks in safer areas”.

Mita conducts thyroid ultrasound tests for parents who are concerned about the health of their children but he is now concerned about the results of another test on children under 10, the differential white blood cell count. This test is undergone routinely by workers in the nuclear industry who are exposed to radiation. Blood is produced in bone marrow, which is one of the organs most vulnerable to radiation. The white blood cells consist of five different kinds of cells, neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinocytes, basophils and monocytes, and it is the relative numbers of these five cell types that is examined. Mita has found a decline in neutrophils in children under 10, in areas that are not considered to be highly contaminated or even contaminated at all. His patients come from Northern Kanto, the area around Tokyo and including Tokyo itself [11].

“The pediatricians’ general textbook says that the reference value of neutrophils for healthy children (6-12 years old) is between 3000 and 5000. 3000 is considered as the threshold value.” Mita says. “But the mean value of neutrophils of the children who have visited our clinics since the accident has decreased to 2500. … It is lower than the threshold value of 3000. I think this points at a serious problem.”

Mita explains that although the decrease in neutrophil does not directly cause lowered immunity, it is “the last bastion of the immunity system” and could play a role in fatal illnesses such as septicaemia in the case of aggressive colds. “In the summer of 2011, there were many children with bloodshot eyes; and what we saw most were children with dark circles under the eyes. We also had increased occurrence of sinusitis. Previously, these patients got better soon after they were given proper treatment; however, we are seeing more cases of sinusitis accompanied with mild case of asthma continuing for longer periods. And when these children spend some time in the West, they get better. If at all possible, I would like them to move away from East Japan.”

In adults, he has found increased nosebleeds, hair loss, lack of energy, subcutaneous bleeding, visible urinary haemorrhage, skin inflammation, and coughs. He has found an increase in infectious diseases such as influenza, hand, foot and mouth diseases and shingles. “We also see more patients with diseases that had been rare before; for example, polymyalgia rheumatica is a disease common among those above age 50 and contracted by 1.7 people out of every 100,000. Before 3.11, [the date of the accident at Fukushima] we had one or less patient per year. Now, we treat more than 10 patients at the same time.” Dr Mita wonders “Could these be the same symptoms of muscle rheumatism that were recorded in Chernobyl?”

Finally, Mita says that the radioactive contamination of Tokyo is increasing because of the Japanese government’s policy of transporting radioactive waste from the Fukushima zone all over Japan for incineration or burial. The Japanese government and the nuclear authorities claimed that filters on the stacks of the incineration plants would remove most of the radioactivity, but this is not the case, and in the opinion of many, it is adding to the contamination. Arnie Gundersen, for instance says, “They are creating 100 to 1000 times more radioactive material by burning debris than keeping it in concentrated form” [12].

To conclude

Mita is talking about his perceptions of the changes in health of a population living in an area that is not considered contaminated. It will be all too easy to dismiss his findings. He himself is not optimistic. He acknowledges that to prove any of his suspicions would require teams of doctors, and expensive research projects to compare groups of people, their radioactive contamination and the illnesses from which they suffer. That’s something simply beyond the reach of any single physician. In other words, “it’s impossible under the present state to collect the kind of data that would be printed in a prestigious science magazine. Still, as long as I know that something strange is clearly happening, I can’t just sit here doing nothing.”

And here is Professor Yablokov talking about the difficulties that doctors and scientists experienced in the Chernobyl territories, to prove a correlation between radiation and illness [13]: “The demand by IAEA and WHO experts to require “significant correlation” between the imprecisely calculated levels of individual radiation […] and precisely diagnosed illnesses […] is not, in our view, scientifically valid. […]We believe it is scientifically incorrect to reject data generated by many thousands of scientists, doctors and other experts who directly observed the suffering of millions affected by radioactive fallout in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, as “mismatching scientific protocols.” It is scientifically valid to find ways to abstract the valuable information from these data.” Yablokov goes on to list the ways in which this could be done.

But it was not done in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, and, in this way, the true health consequences of the Chernobyl accident remain hidden. The 2 million people, including 500,000 children still living in the worst contaminated areas around Chernobyl suffer a myriad of illnesses. (According to the Ministry of Health and Sciences in Belarus in 2000, 85% of the children in the contaminated areas were ill, whereas that figure was 15% before the accident in 1986 [14].)

Mita has made a brave decision. The pressure on health professionals and other citizens in Japan to remain silent about the health consequences of Fukushima, will lead to a health catastrophe there – not now, but in the decades to come.

For more on Fukushima and Chernobyl see [15] Truth about Fukushima and other articles in the series (SiS 55) and [16] Fukushima Crisis Goes Global (SiS 61). ”

Link to article source with internal references

 

‘Remember Fukushima’: Thousands rally against nuclear restart in Japan — Common Dreams

” “Don’t forget Fukushima” was the message Tuesday morning as roughly 16,000 people gathered in downtown Tokyo to protest the restart of Japan’s nuclear power plants.

The demonstration, held outside the official residence of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, came a day after the government outlined plans to restart two reactors at the Sendai nuclear plant in southern Japan at a five-day meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Jiji News reports.

“Three and a half years have passed since the nuclear accident, but self-examination has yet to be made,” Nobel literature laureate Kenzaburo Oe declared at the rally, referencing the 2011 nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The Japanese government has been pushing to restart many of the 48 nuclear reactors shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, despite widespread disapproval and concern over inadequate oversight or safety precautions. According to a recent poll, roughly 60 percent of the Japanese population is opposed to the Sendai restart.

The government, Oe said, is “going ahead with the plan to resume operation at the Sendai plant without compiling sufficient anti-disaster plans.”

After the rally protesters marched through downtown Tokyo with banners reading, “We don’t need nuclear plants,” AFP reports.

“Nuclear energy is billed as a cheaper alternative,” protester Yoriko Yoshida told CBS News. “But if you factor in the damages that need to be covered after an accident, it isn’t cheap at all.”

It has been estimated that the Fukushima clean up will cost billions of dollars and take over forty years to complete. The Tokyo Electric Power Company is still struggling to contain radioactive water at the plant, where, according to officials, the “highly contaminated water” continues to flow from the crippled reactors, mix with groundwater and stream into the ocean. ”

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Are butterflies still fluttering in Fukushima? — BioMed Central

BioMed Central guest blogger, Joji M. Otaki:

” The collapse of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011 is the second largest nuclear accident, next to Chernobyl, in the history of mankind. Many theoreticians and politicians have claimed, without any field-based or experimental evidence, that there are no harmful biological effects caused by the released artificial radionuclides.

Even worse, some biologists have claimed that there are no biological impacts in the polluted area, based solely on fragmentary data from a short survey or a non-informative experiment (or based on irrelevant data) that have no power to resolve the issue. These claims were often relatively well advertised.

However, this situation has changed in recent years. For example, it has already been reported that some animals, especially butterflies, decreased in number in the polluted areas in Fukushima, based on field surveys conducted by Prof. Timothy Mousseau and his colleagues. We have been working on the pale grass blue butterfly, Zizeeria maha, to evaluate the biological impacts of the accident. We are sure that this species of butterfly was considerably affected by the accident, based on several field surveys, rearing experiments in our laboratory, external exposure experiments, and internal exposure experiments, some of which have already been published. The internal exposure experiments were performed in the previously published papers by feeding Okinawa larvae (least affected in Japan) leaves contaminated at high levels.

Now in the paper just published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, we tested if leaves contaminated at relatively low (or very low) levels from places where many people live could be harmful to this butterfly from Okinawa. As expected, leaves contaminated at very low levels (e.g., Okinawa, 0.2 Bq/kg; Atami, 2.5 Bq/kg) did not show any significant effect. However, to our surprise, leaves contaminated at relatively low levels, approximately 100 Bq/kg (e.g., Koriyama, 117 Bq/kg), resulted in a mortality rate of more than 50%. This result differs from the previous one which was based on leaves contaminated at relatively high levels (e.g., Fukushima, 7,860 Bq/kg; Iitate-flatland, 10,170 Bq/kg) see). Because the breeding lines used in these two experiments were different, the difference indicates sensitivity variation within this single species.

Indeed, in our experiments, a mortality rate never reached 100%, even in feeding leaves contaminated at extremely high levels. In other words, some are completely fine at least morphologically, but others are heavily ill or dead. Sensitivity to radiation varies very much among individuals.

The ingestional impacts appear to be transgenerational, as the body size (more precisely, the forewing size) of this butterfly decreased in the offspring generation. Moreover, the sensitivity of the offspring generation increased, resulting in very high mortality rates. Interestingly, feeding the offspring larvae non-contaminated leaves resulted in low mortality rates.

Of course, we do not know how much of our experimental results from the pale grass blue butterfly are applicable to humans. However, it is widely believed among modern biologists that insights obtained from one biological system are largely applicable to other systems. This is why biologists study model organisms such as the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Studies on this insect have greatly contributed to our understanding of humans.

To my knowledge, there have been no cases of human health effects of the Fukushima accident reported in scientific literature thus far, although anecdotal evidence has been around. To be sure, human-based studies are slow, descriptive, less conclusive, and more often a target of political pressure, compared with insect studies, but of course human studies are necessary. I believe that at least some studies on human health will appear sooner or later in scientific literature. ”

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View the scientific study HERE.

Updated 9/22/14: Japan preparing to reopen nuclear power plants — CBS News; Japan nears a nuclear reboot — The New York Times

Updated Sept. 22, 2014, CBS News: watch 2:11 news spot

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Posted Sept. 17, 2014, The New York Times: ” All of Japan’s 48 operable nuclear reactors — the source of about one-third of the country’s electricity — were shut down after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. Three years later, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has certified two reactors at the Sendai power plant on the southern island of Kyushu meet the safety standards imposed after the accident.

It could be months before either reactor is turned on. The company that owns the reactors will make that decision after getting local consent. Even so, the authority’s certification is a major step in the government’s effort to restart the nuclear industry. The authority was created two years ago to restore public confidence in nuclear oversight. The government gave it responsibility to set stricter safety standards and to determine whether reactors met them.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to restore nuclear power as part of his plan to revive the country’s sputtering economy. The public is divided. There is enthusiasm among some locals who see the plants as a source of jobs, but skepticism, according to polls, in the population as a whole. Fukushima showed that absolute safety of nuclear power is a dangerous myth, especially in earthquake-prone Japan. The Sendai plant might have cleared stricter earthquake and tsunami standards, but it is also located in an active volcanic area, about which the new safety standards say little.

In addition, the authority’s assessment did not address the issue of evacuation in case of an accident, which is the responsibility of local governments.

A simulation conducted found that it could take as long as 28 hours to evacuate 90 percent of the residents from within a 30 kilometer radius of the Sendai power plant. Local governments lack the capacity and expertise to conduct a major evacuation, and local leaders have asked the national government to take a more active role in forging evacuation plans. The chaos that ensued from the Fukushima accident should be an obvious reminder of the need for such plans in the event of a major accident. ”

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Tepco struggling to win approval of fishermen over water-discharge plan — The Asahi Shimbun; The Japan Times

” Local fishermen are crying foul over Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s latest plan to discharge processed contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean.

TEPCO and the central government held the first explanatory briefing over the plan on Sept. 18, seeking to win the approval of fishermen operating in southern Fukushima Prefecture.

Their explanation was apparently unconvincing.

“I can’t believe anything TEPCO says,” one of the attendees said after the meeting.

The plan is designed to limit the amount of radioactive water accumulating at the nuclear complex, which was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Under the plan, tainted water stored in 42 wells outside the reactor buildings would be pumped into the nearby sea after undergoing a purification process.

The plant operator believes the new drainage efforts would drastically reduce the amount of contaminated water in the buildings. About 400 tons of contaminated water a day is produced from groundwater flowing into the No. 1 through 4 reactor buildings.

In March, fishermen in Fukushima Prefecture gave TEPCO the green light to release groundwater into the ocean before it reaches the crippled reactors and becomes contaminated.

However, many members of local fisheries associations opposed the plan on the opening day of the briefing sessions, held in Iwaki in the prefecture.

Among the 90 in attendance, Yoshinori Sato, a 55-year-old fisherman of sea urchin and abalone, expressed concern over the plan’s safety.

“If a critical problem should occur, (local fisheries) would be severely damaged,” he said. “They wouldn’t be able to recover.”

Another member criticized the utility for burdening local fishermen with such proposals, asking, “How many times will we have to make a similar painful decision?”

Near the end of the meeting, TEPCO, the central government and fishery association members agreed to pursue the issue on another occasion. ”

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Read a related article by The Japan Times about Tepco’s strategies to try to control the inundation of contaminated water at the Fukushima No. 1 site.