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information about Fukushima published in English in Japanese media info publiée en anglais dans la presse japonaise

Subcontracting - A new scandal

July 21, 2012


Fukushima contractor covers up worker exposure


A subcontractor has been found to have instructed workers at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to underreport the amount of radiation exposure by placing a lead cover on their dosimeters.

On Saturday, health ministry officials inspected an office on the plant premises where worker exposure data are stored. The office belongs to the company that provided work to the subcontractor.

The subcontractor, "Buildup", was in charge of applying antifreeze to pipes in locations where high radiation levels had been detected.

According to its president, one executive told workers to cover the dosimeters they were wearing with lead to show lower doses last December.

Their work was part of the operation to bring about a cold shutdown at the plant.

In a telephone inquiry by his boss on Saturday, the executive reportedly explained that he made 9 workers use lead covers once. He said he did so after he was frightened by an alarm that warned of a sudden rise in radiation while he was inspecting the plant. He told the president that he was sorry.

The health ministry suspects that the company may have violated the law that requires dosimeters to be used properly to protect workers.

How worker exposure is controlled



Japanese health authorities set the permissible cumulative level for radiation exposure for workers at nuclear power plants at 50 millisieverts per year to protect their safety.

If their exposure exceeds the limit, they are not allowed to work inside radiation control areas.

Employers violating the rule can be punished with prison terms of up to 6 months or fines of up to 500,000 yen or about 6,370 dollars.

Worker exposure is measured by dosimeters they wear while at work, and their employer is responsible for managing them.

At the Fukushima plant, workers receive dosimeters before starting work and return them after work.

The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, and one of its contractors, Tokyo Energy & Systems, monitored the exposure of workers from Buildup, a subcontractor with an executive suspected of ordering adjustment of dose records. Workers were informed of their doses every day, and cumulative figures were reported to Buildup once a month.

Such data is also reported to the Radiation Effects Association on a regular basis to keep track of workers' cumulative doses even if their employers change.

Buildup's workers were carrying a dosimeter called "Glass Badge" in addition to the digital one they were told to cover with lead.

The health ministry plans to compare the data on both dosimeters for any significant differences, and also compare data records of people working at the same site.

Build-up President Takashi Wada says he's aware of the gravity of the issue.

The president of another subcontractor told NHK that work in a highly radioactive environment is lucrative.
But he said it's out of the question to falsify exposure data. He said he fears the revelation could undermine confidence in nuclear subcontractors.

A man who had worked at the Fukushima plant just after last year's accident says the official dose limit is 50 millisieverts per year but in reality contractors avoid sending workers to the site if the reading goes beyond 20 millisieverts.
He says he himself can no longer work at nuclear power plants as his cumulative dose probably exceeds about 30 millisieverts.

The man says subcontractors cannot send workers to the plant when their doses rise. So, he says, subcontractors want to limit exposure on a daily basis.

The man adds that many veteran employees are now unable to do such work because of their high cumulative doses. He says he wants people to understand the current situation involving a less-experienced workforce.

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