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The Economist: Fukushima engineer reveals workers “often keeled over” while clearing radioactive rubble, heat blamed — Taken away in ambulance, “usually” they returned

Published: November 8th, 2011 at 12:02 am ET
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Nov. 5 — Setting the scene for its revealing report on the plight of workers at Fukushima Daiichi, the Economist details conditions outside the stricken plant. “Patrol cars stop passing vehicles,” notes the reporter, “The police are particularly vigilant in preventing unauthorised people getting near the stricken plant.”

Meet the Workers

“The air of secrecy is compounded when you try to approach workers involved in the nightmarish task of stabilising the nuclear plant. Many are not salaried Tepco staff but low-paid contract workers lodging in Iwaki, just south of the exclusion zone.”

“It is easy to spot them, in their nylon tracksuits — They seem to have been recruited from the poorest corners of society”:

  • One calls home from a pay phone because he can’t afford a mobile phone
  • Another has a single front tooth
  • Both are reluctant to talk to journalist (condition of employment is silence)
  • They share their concerns about safety
  • One said he got 30 minutes of safety training
  • He said almost everything he learned about radiation risks came from TV

Conditions On-site

Hiroyuki Watanabe, an Iwaki official reports there are “many safety breaches.” “Workers wading through contaminated water complain that their boots have holes in them — Some are not instructed in when to change the filters on their safety masks,” according to Watanabe.

“Even such basic tools as wrenches are in short supply, he claims. Tepco is shielded by a lack of media scrutiny. The councillor shows a Tepco gagging order that one local boss had to sign. Article four bans all discussion of the work with outsiders. All requests for media interviews must be rejected.”

The Engineer

“One engineer who has played a front-line role in helping cool the meltdown of Fukushima’s three reactors spoke unwittingly to The Economist.”

The engineer revealed to the Econominst the in May, “The hardest work was done by the low-level labourers. They had so much rubble to clear, he says, that they often keeled over in the heat under the weight of their protective gear. Taken out in ambulances, they would usually be back the following day.”

h/t Anonymous tip

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Published: November 8th, 2011 at 12:02 am ET
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37 comments

37 comments to The Economist: Fukushima engineer reveals workers “often keeled over” while clearing radioactive rubble, heat blamed — Taken away in ambulance, “usually” they returned