21 Juillet 2012
July 21, 2012
The Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is pictured in this photo taken from a Mainichi helicopter on July 19, 2012. (Mainichi)
An executive of a company commissioned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to perform part of the work to bring its crippled nuclear plant under control instructed workers at the site to cover their dosimeters with lead in an apparent attempt to hide their exposure to radiation, it has been learned.
The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has launched an investigation into the case suspecting that it could constitute a violation of the Industrial Safety and Health Act, which strictly limits the amount of radiation workers can be exposed to.
"We'll firmly deal with the matter once the practice is confirmed to constitute a violation of any law," the ministry's Labor Standards Bureau said.
In November last year, Buildup, a medium-sized construction company based in Fukushima Prefecture, won a contract to perform part of the work to bring the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant under control as a sub-subcontractor of TEPCO.
About 10 workers of Buildup were engaged in work in December to cover hoses in the plant's contaminated water purification system with insulation materials.
Sources close to the case said a board member of Buildup instructed the workers at a dormitory to shroud their dosimeters with lead covers shortly before the work began at the power plant in an apparent bid to make it look as if they were exposed to far less radiation than the actual amount.
Buildup officials said they cannot contact the board member now.
Article 22 of the Industrial Safety and Health Act stipulates that employers must take necessary measures to prevent workers' health from being affected by their labor. If employers force workers to shroud their dosimeters with lead while working at facilities where radiation levels are high, it could constitute a violation of the clause. Violators could face up to six months in prison of a fine of up to 500,000 yen.
Buildup President Takashi Wada expressed regret over the revelations. "It's extremely regrettable and we take the matter seriously. We'll conduct an investigation into the case based on information from our employees and report the results," he said in a statement.
An official of Tokyo Energy & Systems Inc., a TEPCO subcontractor that farmed out the work to Buildup, said, "We received a report about the case from (Buildup) President Wada. It appears true that the company produced lead covers, but workers have told us they never used the covers although they had been instructed to use them. In any case, it's outrageous."
TEPCO's public relations department said it has instructed Tokyo Energy & Systems to promptly get to the bottom of the incident and report the results.
ALTERNATIVE, Hearings: Page 2 — An executive at a subcontractor for Tokyo Electric Power Co. forced nine workers dealing with the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to encase their dosimeters in lead, the company confirmed Saturday.
The executive is believed to have tried to underreport radiation exposure,
prompting the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to launch an investigation on suspicion of violating the industrial safety and health law, officials said.
The unnamed executive, who is in his 50s and works for Build-Up, a construction firm based in Fukushima Prefecture, told the plant workers Dec. 1 to attach the lead plates to pocket dosimeters provided by Tepco to monitor their radiation exposure, the sources said.
He said during questioning that he issued the instruction to them only once and that they worked at the site around three hours that day, according to the company.
The workers were hired for about four months through last March to wrap pipes at a water treatment facility with heat insulators.
Tepco affiliate Tokyo Energy & Systems Inc., which contracted with Build-Up, said it was told the workers did not use the lead plates, but it is looking into the matter to see if the executive was acting on his own initiative.
Lead is one of the main materials for shielding radiation.
Tepco uses the dosimeters to decide how long workers at the Fukushima plant can deal with the crisis without exceeding the government emergency exposure limit of 100 millisieverts a year.
Hourly radiation of between 0.3 and 1.2 millisieverts was recorded near the work site of the subcontractor employees.
"We are currently investigating the incident. We learned about this incident only on Thursday after being interviewed by a newspaper," Build-Up President Takashi Wada said Saturday. "We truly regret this has happened, and we are taking it very seriously."
A newspaper reported Saturday that the executive told the workers they would quickly reach the legally permissible annual exposure limit of 50 millisieverts without faking the exposure level.
The workers reportedly recorded the meeting.
"Unless we hide it with lead, exposure will max out and we cannot work," the executive was heard saying in the recording, the newspaper reported.
Some of the workers who refused to encase their dosimeters left Build-Up, the paper said.