23 Juillet 2012
July 23, 2012
The material used by an executive of a Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) subcontractor to cover the dosimeters of its workers at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in an apparent attempt to hide their exposure to radiation, was taken from inside the plant's site, officials with the firm said.
The executive from Buildup, a Fukushima Prefecture-based construction company that performed part of the work to bring the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant under control as a subcontractor of TEPCO, used a lead plate for radiation shielding from a storehouse inside the nuclear plant without permission, and used the material to make lead covers for its workers' dosimeters.
The used covers were later thrown away, also at the plant's site, company officials told the Mainichi Shimbun in a recent interview.
Buildup officials and other sources close to the matter further clarified that the incident occurred in early December last year, prior to the beginning of the firm's work at the nuclear power plant. The executive in question, along with several other company employees, took a few millimeter-wide lead plate from the storehouse, and using tools, made covers for their dosimeters from it, the officials say.
It is believed that the executive sought onsite material, and later threw away the lead covers at the power plant's site, because workers at the damaged nuclear power plant are required to pass through a compulsory screening of their possessions when they enter and exit the plant.
Buildup officials say that the executive ordered employees to cover up their radiation doses for the first time during the company's work at the plant between early December to Dec. 20 last year, and used the lead covers only once.
Having worked at the nuclear power plant on two occasions prior to December 2011, once in March last year and a second time between May and July also in 2011, the executive was apparently well familiar with where lead was kept.
The health ministry is investigating allegations that a construction company ordered its workers at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to cover their dosimeters with lead to indicate lower exposure levels, according to sources.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry searched several sites in Fukushima Prefecture on Saturday and confirmed working conditions at the nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
According to the ministry, the construction company that issued the illegal instruction is Build-up, which is based in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.
Build-up was a subcontractor of Tokyo Energy & Systems Inc., a Tokyo-based group firm of TEPCO entrusted with restoring the plant, according to sources.
In December, a Build-up executive allegedly instructed nine onsite workers to place lead covers over their dosimeters so they would record lower radiation exposure levels.
Under the Industrial Safety and Health Law, such workers are permitted to receive a maximum exposure of 50 millisieverts a year. Employers are required to accurately measure workers' exposure levels.
If the executive ordered the workers to cover their meters to manipulate exposure readings, it would constitute a violation of the law that is punishable by up to six months in prison or a fine of up 500,000 yen.
TEPCO said Tokyo Energy & Systems reported Thursday that lead covers for the radiation meters had been produced. However, Tokyo Energy & Systems also said the covers had not been used during work at the stricken plant.
TEPCO said it instructed Tokyo Energy & Systems to further investigate the matter and report its findings.
On Saturday, the Fukushima Labor Bureau and the Tomioka Labor Standards Inspection Office inspected Tokyo Energy & Systems' office in Fukushima Prefecture.
Exec admits ordering cover use
Later Saturday, Build-up President Takashi Wada admitted to The Yomiuri Shimbun that the executive had ordered nine workers to work for about three hours while covering their dosimeters with lead.
Wada said he spoke with the executive who supervised the on-site work over the telephone Saturday.
The executive reportedly told the president: "When I went to the site in advance, I was surprised that the alarm on my active personal dosimeter started ringing so quickly. To reduce radiation exposure readings, I came up with the idea of using a lead shield."
Wada said the executive admitted workers at the plant had used lead covers.
Wada, 57, said the workers told him the executive instructed about four workers to make the covers.
According to Wada, the executive said the covers were used only once--in December when the workers transported material on higher ground west of the plant's No. 1 reactor.
"Nine workers were involved and they worked for about three hours," the executive was quoted as telling Wada. "That was the first and last time the covers were used."