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Working without being notified of risks

April 3, 2015

100 people worked near Fukushima nuclear plant without radiation knowledge
Working without being notified of risks

A man holds a copy of his radiation control notebook, which does not mention his radiation dose from his work as a traffic patrol worker. (Mainichi)



Roughly 100 people worked in a former no-go zone near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant between December 2012 and March 2013 without knowledge that their work was subject to a special radiation dose limit, it has been learned.

The workers were employed by a contractor that secured jobs for them under a deal with the central government's Cabinet Office to monitor passing vehicles. Labor standards authorities ordered the contractor to correct its practices after the problem came to light.

The contractor says it had only about two weeks to begin work after winning the government contract, and did not have much time to check pertinent laws. The case highlights the central government's hasty approach in requesting such work -- without a sufficient preparatory period or explanation.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has asked both contractors and outsourcers to comply with legal requirements.

According to the Cabinet Office and other sources, the deal called on the contractor to assign 20 regular cars to the former no-go zone within 20 kilometers of the nuclear plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. to direct and monitor other motor vehicles. The Cabinet Office hastily asked a local taxi company to do the job after local governments were given permission to issue passes to local government officials and reconstruction workers in December 2012.

The taxi company, which had handled requests from local residents for temporary homecomings, procured regular vehicles and temporary workers to do the job.

However, the Tomioka Labor Standards Inspection Office was alerted by third parties about a possible violation of regulations for jobs other than decontamination work that are subject to special radiation limits. It launched an investigation and ordered the contractor in August last year to rectify the situation, pointing out that the job fell under the category of work in which people would be exposed to an air dose of over 2.5 microsieverts per hour.

Although the contractor independently monitored the traffic patrol workers' radiation exposure through their dosimeters, it did not check their respective radiation exposure records, conduct an 150-minute course on radiation effects on the human body and measurement methods, carry out advance research on air doses or issue dose records.

The contractor sent workers their radiation dose records after receiving the improvement order from the labor standards inspection office, but some of the records returned unopened because the workers had changed their addresses.

The Cabinet Office says the traffic patrol work has changed somewhat in content since April 2013, and another contractor is now engaged in tasks subject to the special radiation dose limit.

The health ministry's guidelines for jobs subject to the radiation limit say that an outsourcer can place an order after confirming that a contractor has in place a system to secure enough workers who have been educated to carry out the assignment.

The taxi company's president told the Mainichi Shimbun that his company barely managed to secure enough people and cars. The company, he said, is a novice when it comes to nuclear radiation. He said that the firm might have checked the special radiation dose regulations if there had been a longer preparatory period. The Cabinet Office says it has no clear-cut recollection of its request, but acknowledged that the request was urgent. It added it was not required to explain whether or not the job was subject to the special radiation dose limit because the contractor was primarily responsible for making judgments.

The health ministry declined comment on the specific case other than to say that it has urged outsourcers including the Cabinet Office and contractors to honor pertinent regulations.

A 63-year-old man who was a member of the vehicle patrol team says the central government should care more for people working in no-go zones.

The man was recruited after a suspension of decontamination work. He and other prospective workers assembled at an izakaya restaurant in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, and were briefed in December 2012. They received explanations about granting motor vehicles passes and reporting suspicious vehicles, but were not notified about outdoor radiation levels.

On the evening of the following day, the man and another man got into a used car and set up four checkpoints along National Route 6 in the onetime no-go zone and checked passing vehicles from their car. The closest checkpoint was less than 2 kilometers from the nuclear plant, and they were scared as their dosimeters showed high levels of radiation.

The man learned about the special radiation dose limit last year and inquired with the Cabinet Office. He was told that the contractor said the job was not subject to radiation dose limits. He wanted to know his overall radiation dose because he had engaged in decontamination work in the past.

After the labor standards inspection office issued its order, he received his radiation dose record for his traffic patrol duty. It said his dosage was less than 1 millisievert.

"It's wrong to continue to work without advance notification of the risks," he said.

April 03, 2015(Mainichi Japan)


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