For 6,000, the daily bus ride takes them to Fukushima plant — The Asahi Shimbun

” NARAHA, Fukushima Prefecture–Despite the predawn hour, few people are sleeping on a bus that steadily makes its way north on National Route 6.

Some passengers are planning for the work ahead. One is looking forward to chatting with his colleagues. And a few wonder if today will be the day when their annual radiation doses reach the safety limit.

Every day, buses like this take 6,000 workers to the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. And every day, the same buses take the exhausted and mostly sleeping workers back to their base at the Japan Football Village (J-Village) in Naraha.

Although the Fukushima plant is still decades away from being decommissioned, without this daily routine of the workers who toil amid an invisible danger, the situation at the site would be much more difficult.

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One of them, the 49-year-old leader of a group of metal workers from Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, has been working at nuclear plants, including the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power station in Niigata Prefecture, for nearly 20 years.

He was at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant when the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the triple meltdown there in March 2011.

“Nobody can get close to the area where the melted nuclear fuel remains due to high radiation doses,” the man said. “Even if we could approach the area, we would have no way out if something happens. The situation is harsh.”

Those metal workers install tanks for the contaminated water that keeps accumulating at the plant.

Although there are plenty of empty seats, the young workers sit in front and the older workers take the back seats.

Thousands of workers are staying at temporary dormitories set up in J-Village, a soccer training complex.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., operator of the nuclear plant, hired a local bus company to transport the workers to the plant because securing parking areas near the site has been difficult since the 2011 disaster.

The company provides 407 services a day to and from the plant. Each trip takes about 30 minutes.

The first shuttle bus departs from J-Village at 3:30 a.m., while the last bus leaves the Fukushima plant at 9:45 p.m.

In mid-November amid torrential rain, one bus picked up a man taking shelter under the eaves of a bus stop.

He said he is in charge of managing data related to radiation doses of fittings and other equipment at the plant.

“We have many different types of work here,” the man proudly said.

Also on the way to the nuclear plant, a 53-year-old employee of a security company was thinking about personnel distribution.

Like other workers there, security guards must be replaced when their annual radiation doses reach a certain level set by the government.

He said he has difficulties making ends meet with a limited number of guards who have knowledge about radiation.

Suddenly, the man’s cellphone rings, and the caller orders the deployment of additional security guards to the plant.

A 52-year-old TEPCO employee was on the way to the nearby Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant to provide a safety training program for workers, many of whom are victims of the triple disaster.

“I want to convey to workers how precious their lives are and how important safety is in a way that doesn’t make me sound hypocritical,” the employee said.

The triple meltdown has been called a “man-made disaster” caused by the failure of both TEPCO’s management and the government’s regulatory authorities.

The TEPCO employee will use props, such as a ladder, and pretend to be a worker to explain dangerous cases at the No. 1 plant.

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On the trip back to J-Village, a different atmosphere exists on the bus.

Although dazzling sunlight shines through the windows and stunning views of the ocean are available, most of the workers are fast asleep in their wrinkled uniforms.

“Few people stay awake. I don’t even switch on the radio. They must be tired after their work,” said Nobuyuki Kimura, 52, who has driven the shuttle bus for one-and-a-half years.

In Kimura’s bus that departed the plant at 2:30 p.m., all 50 seats and some of the auxiliary seats were filled. The few passengers who stayed awake remained quiet.

By early evening, fewer workers boarded the bus at the plant.

Window seats at the back of the bus are desirable on all rides because they have an enough room for the seats to recline, allowing passengers to cross their legs.

A 21-year-old worker from Iwaki went for a window seat at the back after standing at the front of a line waiting for the bus.

“I can relax sitting here. This is the premium seat,” said the man who collects waste materials, such as boots and socks, at the site.

Although he works in protective gear in an area with high radiation levels, he said he has never thought about quitting his job.

He said he became fed up with school as a junior high school student, and did not bother going to senior high school.

At the age of 18, he joined his current company, and his first assignment was at the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

“I became acquaintances with more and more people. It’s fun to speak with people at work,” he said.

Through his work at the nuclear plant, his weight has dropped from 115 kilograms to 93 kg.

Thirty to 40 years are needed to decommission the Fukushima No. 1 plant, according to the mid- and-long-term roadmap compiled by the government and TEPCO.

To reduce the groundwater flowing into the buildings housing the No. 1 to No. 4 reactors, TEPCO installed coolant pipes this year to create an underground frozen soil wall to divert the water into the ocean.

TEPCO announced in October that the ice wall on the sea side was nearly frozen, but groundwater is believed to be seeping through it.

The utility plans to start removing spent fuel from the No. 3 reactor building in fiscal 2017. It also has plans to begin the daunting task of removing the melted fuel from the No. 1 to No. 3 reactor containment vessels in 2021.

However, extremely high radiation levels have prevented workers from approaching and understanding the condition of the melted fuel. The removal method has yet to be decided.

The estimated cost of work for decommissioning and dealing with the contaminated water has ballooned to 8 trillion yen ($68.1 billion). ”

by Aya Nagatani


First thyroid cancer case in Japan recognized as Fukushima-related & compensated by govt — RT

” A man who worked at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan during the disastrous 2011 meltdown has had his thyroid cancer recognized as work-related. The case prompted the government to finally determine its position on post-disaster compensation.

The unnamed man, said to be in his 40s, worked at several nuclear power plants between 1992 and 2012 as an employee of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. He was present at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant during the March 11, 2011 meltdown. Three years after the disaster, he was diagnosed with thyroid gland cancer, which the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare confirmed on Friday as stemming from exposure to radiation.

The man’s body radiation exposure was totaled at 150 millisieverts, almost 140 of which were a result of the accident. Although this is not the first time that health authorities have linked cancer to radiation exposure for workers at the Fukushima plant, it is the first time a patient with thyroid cancer has won the right to work-related compensation.

There have been two cases previously, both of them involving leukemia.

The recent case prompted Japan’s health and labor ministry to release for the first time its overall position on dealing with compensation issues for workers who were at the Fukushima plant at the time and after the accident. Workers who had been exposed to over 100 millisieverts and developed cancer five years or more after exposure were entitled to compensation, the ministry ruled this week. The dose level was not a strict standard but rather a yardstick, the officials added.

As of March, 174 people who worked at the plant had been exposed to over 100 millisieverts worth of radiation, according to a joint study by the UN and the Tokyo Electric Power Company. There is also an estimate that more than 2,000 workers have radiation doses exceeding 100 millisieverts just in their thyroid gland, Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun reported.

The 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was the worst of its kind since the infamous 1986 catastrophe in Chernobyl, Ukraine. After the Tohoku earthquake in eastern Japan and the subsequent tsunami, the cooling system of one of the reactors stopped working, causing a meltdown. Nearly half a million people were evacuated and a 20-kilometer exclusion zone was set up. ”


Fukushima 3/11 breeds cynicism — Robert Hunziker, CounterPunch

” … Meanwhile, in another universe, former PM Koizumi supports the lawsuit of U.S. sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan that participated in Operation Tomodachi, providing humanitarian relief after the March 11th Fukushima meltdowns. Allegedly, they were assured that radiation levels were okay!

“There is no excuse for Tokyo Electric Power Co. not to give the 400 U.S. sailors and marines who are now suing the company the proper facts. Things are looking especially good for the plaintiffs now that former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is backing the lawsuit over the Fukushima radiation,” Support for U.S. Sailor’s Tepco Suit, The Japan Times, June 17, 2016.

“Undoubtedly, Koizumi was convinced to help the sailors because they now suffer from radiation poisoning. He said: ‘Those who gave their all to assist Japan are now suffering from serious illness. I can’t overlook them,” Ibid.

According to lawyers representing the sailors, Charles Bonner & Cabral Bonner & Paul Garner, Esq., Sausalito, CA, seven sailors have already died, including some from leukemia.

With passage of time, the number of plaintiffs and numbers of deaths grows as the latency effect of radiation sets in. Thus, over time, the latency effect works against the pro-nuclear squawk talk that “all’s clear.”

Initially, the lawsuit represented less than 200 sailors but over time, the latency effect brings forward 400 sailors claiming radiation-poison complications, including leukemia, ulcers, gall bladder removal, brain cancer, brain tumors, testicular cancer, uterine bleeding, thyroid illness, stomach ailments, and premature deaths. These are youngsters. … ”

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Fukushima Daiichi ice wall shows measured progress — Nuclear Street

” In a quarterly report on conditions and cleanup progress at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said that soil temperatures at more than 90 percent of the measuring points in a circumference surrounding four reactor buildings were below zero degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

TEPCO is attempting to create and impervious wall of frozen soil below the damaged plant in an area that includes reactor buildings 1 through 4. The idea is to control groundwater that has been flowing under and through the damaged buildings, picking up radioactivity along the way, then flowing back into the ambient soil below the plant on the seaside, eventually reaching the ocean.

TEPCO finished installation of 1,549 pipes to create the underground frozen blockade area in early February 2015. The coolant began flowing through the pipes on March 31 after a series of pressure tests.

The report, that shows more than 90 percent of measuring points achieving success, covers the January through March period.

Judging the bottom-line success of the soil freezing may proof difficult, but some measures of success can be defined through observations of groundwater levels inside the damaged building.

It is uncertain, for example, how water flow has changed given 10 percent of the wall is unsecured. That may allow incidental leakage or significant leakage, depending on conditions.

The report on the progress is helpful, however. The 90 percent that is frozen, the report says, includes the “entire seaside line along with preliminary freezing of some areas to the north and on the mountainside.” On that mountainside or uphill side of the frozen soil wall, there are areas “where there is significant space between freezing pipes and thus more difficult to freeze,” says the report.

Where water can be directly measured is inside the lower chambers of the damaged buildings. Along with the frozen soil and improved ditching for water control around the plant, TEPCO is pumping contaminated water inside the facility to a treatment system. In August 2015, additional transfer pumps were installed in each building and more water level gauges were mounted. At that point water levels were “down incrementally.” As of September 2015, subdrains were employed which “gradually lowered groundwater level(s) and hindered production of contaminated water.”

On March 7, the water level inside the reactor building was below the level of the connections to the turbine building, a crucial achievement. Since then, “we have verified that the water levels are being stably maintained,” another achievement. As of March 16, TEPCO determined “channels had been severed through which accumulated water had flowed between the reactor and turbine buildings.”

In the fourth quarter, work was completed on shifting the outlet of drainage channel K, which discharges rainwater around buildings at Units 1-4, from outside the port to inside the port. After a cut-off wall was completed, the switchover was completed, the report says.

Progress is also affecting workers on site. Since early March, the site has been divided into “highly contaminated areas,” which require cumbersome protective gear and areas where “regular working clothes or special on-site clothing,” is allowed. Measures such as spraying areas to keep radioactive dust down has improved worker safety, says TEPCO, which claims they have achieved an annual radiation level of 1mSv along the site boundary. ”


Manga artist and ex-Fukushima No. 1 worker portrays life, progress at troubled plant — The Japan Times

” A manga artist who has been involved in decommissioning work at the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has highlighted the need for effective deployment of skilled workers in parts of the premises that still have high radiation levels.

Kazuto Tatsuta, 51, also said in a recent interview that he feels progress has been made since the Tokyo Electric Power Co. complex suffered triple meltdowns after the March 11, 2011 quake and tsunami disaster in an operation that will take decades.

“It is not hard to collect a large number of ordinary workers, but lower wages resulting from multilayered (subcontractors) is a problem that could, in severely bad cases, have an impact on their motivation,” Tatsuta said, noting that about 7,000 people work at the plant every day.

Tatsuta, who uses a pen name for fear of being prevented from working at the plant again, commuted to the complex intermittently between June 2012 and November 2014 to engage in such work as managing rest stations for other workers, plumbing within the reactor 3 building and taking care of robots operating within the units.

His manga stories “Ichiefu” (“1F”), published by Kodansha Ltd., portray the ordinary lives and attitudes of workers at the complex. For example, they were irritated by itchy noses as a result of wearing full face masks and were more afraid of the heat in summer than of radiation.

Ichiefu is an abbreviation for the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant commonly used among local people and those related to the industry.

Tatsuta, who has frequently changed jobs since graduating from university, said work at the Fukushima plant is by no means lucrative. “Initially, I didn’t aim to work in 1F. After seeking a job in disaster-hit areas including Miyagi or Iwate, I just found one at the nuclear plant.”

But he said, “The construction company I worked for was a sixth subcontractor (of Tepco) and the salary was no different from that for ordinary work. My dream of making a lot of money in a short period was (dashed).”

His pay started at ¥8,000 (about $70) a day working in the rest houses, and rose to ¥20,000 per day for work within the reactor buildings.

His three-volume book series depicts workers from all across Japan having to bear their own living costs in uncomfortable lodgings before work is officially allocated, or not receiving any pay when accidents or other problems cause operations at the plant to be abruptly suspended.

Tatsuta also noted the need for experts, in addition to ordinary workers. “In order to get experts who have experience and skills relating to nuclear plants to work as long as possible, the management of radiation is crucial,” he said. “The longer these workers are exposed to radiation, the shorter they are able to stay in higher dose places.”

Measures against radiation, including decontamination of such areas and the setting up of protective barriers around them, are essential, he said.

Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the nuclear crisis, many media outlets were allowed to enter the premises to report on the current situation at the plant.

“A big development is that workers are able to move around (wide ares of the) premises without full face masks,” said Tatsuta, having seen photos in a newspaper. Currently, people can work with masks that cover only half their face in about 90 percent of the premises, except for areas around the stricken reactors.

The media tend to report that reconstruction of the disaster-hit area is still only halfway done. But Tatsuta called on readers to focus on the things that are progressing, albeit little by little.

Within the Fukushima complex, the completion of a frozen underground wall to prevent radioactive water from accumulating further and the piling up of around 1,000 tanks to store processed contaminated water are indications of the significant progress made since Tatsuta left 1F, he said, though admitting there was still considerable work to be done.

“Ichiefu” features ordinary middle-aged men who take naps while waiting for their colleagues to finish their jobs, chat cheerfully with their co-workers or play pachinko in their free time.

“Some people viewed us as heroes, saying ‘Thank you very much on behalf of Japan and the world.’ Others felt very sorry for us, saying ‘You were treated like slaves in dangerous working conditions.’ But I want to say that neither of these views is correct. I’d like readers to understand that to some extent.

“As one of those workers, I wanted to describe the gap between what the public thought and what I saw inside. ‘Ichiefu’ is . . . like my diary, but I am pleased if it has resulted in showing the workers’ real lives.”

Tatsuta, who describes himself as a cartoonist who doesn’t sell well, was careful not to indicate his own political views on the government’s nuclear policies for fear that this would make his work seem biased.

“I neither agree nor disagree with the restart of nuclear plants, although I am frequently asked that question,” he said.

Having made its debut in a weekly magazine in October 2013, some 350,000 copies of “Ichiefu” have now been printed in Japan. It has also hit the shelves in Taiwan, with French, Spanish, German and Italian versions being published soon.

Tatsuta now calls Fukushima his “second hometown” as a result of the connections he made while living and working there, and said, “I hope to work there for the rest of my life, if possible.”

But he has had no chance to work at the complex since December 2014, and sometimes suspects that because Tepco or one of its subcontractors has discovered his identity as the author of the manga series, he is unable to return there.

“It can’t be helped. I have been prepared for that from the beginning,” he said. “But once I became involved (in 1F), I began looking forward and I am closely observing how it will be cleaned up. It can’t turn any worse from now.”

Tatsuta is currently working on a manga story for an upcoming book on the decommissioning of the Fukushima plant co-authored by Hiroshi Kainuma, a Fukushima-born sociologist. ”

by Satoshi Iizuka