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Wednesday, 30 July 2014

From Jul. 16, 2014 Working Conditions at Fukushima Daiichi

Crews at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant are carrying out decommissioning work that will take decades. Managers at the plant are stepping up efforts to improve their employee's...long-term working environment. But, they're facing many obstacles.

NHK WORLD's Yoichiro Tateiwa went for an inside look on this edition of Nuclear Watch.
Cleaning up Fukushima Daiichi is a big job. Workers are removing radioactive contamination and decommissioning damaged reactors at the same time.

The area around the crippled buildings still has high levels of radiation.
People here work in shifts and take breaks every few hours.
As many as 6000 workers come to the site every day. Their schedules are designed to minimize radiation exposure.

TEPCO officials explain most of the people here are employees of subcontracting companies. It means the utility is not directly responsible for their safety.

But TEPCO officials have started taking measures to improve conditions at the plant.
"We consider improving the working environment to be a top priority."
Yuichi Nagano / General Manager, TEPCO

They're constructing a resting facility for workers. The building will have a dining space where hot meals will be sold. It will also have devices people can use to check their internal radiation exposure.
It's not just spaces for breaks that are getting improvements. An example is this vehicle repair factory. Nothing like it existed here before it was built.

That worried many workers. The vehicles here can't leave because they may be contaminated. So if one broke down or needed repairs, there was no way to fix it. Now, that problem has been solved.
"Ensuring worker safety is essential for safe and speedy decommissioning."
Yuichi Nagano / General Manager, TEPCO

But experts say more needs to be done to ensure the safety of workers.
"At Fukushima Daiichi, the task of checking workers' health is handled by the companies that hire them. But what we need is a centralized system for checking the health of all workers. "
Ryuji Okazaki / Professor, University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan
Okazaki says the Japanese government needs to establish a system for making sure the workers are healthy.

There are other issues to consider. When workers finish a shift, they are required to take off their protective gear. Their clothing and equipment is treated as contaminated waste.

TEPCO is now constructing an incineration facility to deal with it. But the manager overseeing the project says he is not sure when it will be ready.

"All of us have to stop working right when our shifts end to minimize radiation exposure. It's not like a normal construction site."
Shohei Komiya / Manager, TEPCO

He says under these conditions, it's hard to stay on schedule. TEPCO has a lot riding on the safety of the plant's workers. Their health and well being is critical to the success of the decommissioning project.

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