Fukushima's "crisis of manpower": Unskilled and destitute workers have taken over the cleanup process

"Nowhere to go? Come to Fukushima"

Published March 17, 2014 4:11PM (EDT)

The serious and delicate business of decommissioning Fukushima's crippled nuclear plant is being undertaken by a series of unskilled, poorly trained workers, the New York Times reports, in a "crisis of manpower" that can have dangerous implications both for environmental safety and for the workers themselves.

A series of mishaps, coupled with the dangerous nature of the work to begin with, has made the cleanup a less than desirable gig -- Reuters, which has been following the worksite closely, has already reported on how homeless men are being rounded up and paid below minimum wage to clean up radioactive fallout.

The Times has more on the scary state of affairs at Fukushima, summed up by this online ad: “Out of work? Nowhere to live? Nowhere to go? Nothing to eat? Come to Fukushima.” Also telling was this incident from last fall:

That crisis was especially evident one dark morning last October, when a crew of contract workers was sent to remove hoses and valves as part of a long-overdue upgrade to the plant’s water purification system.

According to regulatory filings by Tepco, the team received only a 20-minute briefing from their supervisor and were given no diagrams of the system they were to fix and no review of safety procedures — a scenario a former supervisor at the plant called unthinkable. Worse yet, the laborers were not warned that a hose near the one they would be removing was filled with water laced with radioactive cesium.

As the men shambled off in their bulky protective gear, their supervisor, juggling multiple responsibilities, left to check on another crew. They chose the wrong hose, and a torrent of radioactive water began spilling out. Panicked, the workers thrust their gloved hands into the water to try to stop the leak, spraying themselves and two other workers who raced over to help.

Although the workers received significant exposures, Shigeharu Nakachi, an expert in the health effects of pollution, said it was not enough to cause radiation sickness. Still, he said such exposures were “something that should be avoided at all cost.”

By Lindsay Abrams

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