TEPCO -Workers deaths are not reported



From 21 November 2013

…“She said that there have been so many workers dead without being reported. Some died during the 2 days break, some didn’t turn up the next morning and were found dead…. Those who died haven’t been measured for how much exposure they got. Tepco doesn’t count and report the dead unless they die during their work hours.” …

(Editor’s comment: According to Mrs. Mako Oshidori of NPJ and of Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., Ltd., Tepco doesn’t keep a record of the worker’s radiation exposure and number of deaths (See the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Pu5iLj7toE There has been some information in the Japanese blogs concerning Tepco worker’s deaths. I picked a few of them for this post.
<福島県川内村村議会議員 西山千嘉子氏からの情報> 7/11/2011 原発作業員の死亡はこれまで3名と発表されているが、あくまでも、作業中に体調不良で亡くなった方の数。契約を終えて家に帰ってから亡くなる方が多いが、それはまったくカウントされていない。これまでフクイチ原発作業に携わった作業員は、のべ約10万人、そのうち約4%にあたる4300人が亡くなっているという。直接の死因は心筋梗塞が多いよう だ。そのようにして亡くなくなった場合には、億単位の多額の口止料が支払われており、口外すると没収されてしまうため、家族も一切口をつぐんでいるよう だ。
According to Ms. Chikako Nishiyama, a former member of the Kawauchi village Assembly…

Media reports de-romanticize the cleanup work on the Fukushima nuclear power plant

Front-line fight: Workers remove protective clothing after a shift at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in November 2011.
Most of the reliable reporting about the clean-up of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant since it suffered three meltdowns in March 2011 has been from on-site workers. Even when articles appear in major media outlets about the situation at the crippled reactor, it’s usually presented through the anonymous or pseudonymous firsthand experiences of the men on the front lines.
Some have become famous. The public would not know much about the situation without Kazuto Tatsuta’s manga series, “Ichiefu” (or “1F” — shorthand for “Fukushima No. 1”), the writings of former letter carrier and cleanup worker Minoru Ikeda, or the books and tweets of a man known as “Happy” who has been working as an employee at the plant.
Because these individuals directly address what they and their colleagues have gone through on a daily basis, the work they do has been de-romanticized. It’s not as heroic as initial foreign media reports made it out to be. If anything, it’s tedious and uncomplicated.
Workers are concerned about those matters that all blue-collar laborers worry about — pay and benefits — which isn’t to suggest they don’t think about the possible health risks of radiation exposure. Last October, Ikeda talked to the comedy duo-cum-nuclear power reporters Oshidori Mako & Ken on the web channel Jiyu-na Radio about potential false reports on radiation levels around Fukushima, although also touching on health issues that have not been reported by the mainstream media. His main point was that serious illnesses may not manifest themselves until years after workers quit the site and thus no longer qualify for worker’s compensation. In other words, the workers understand the risk. They just want to be fairly compensated for it.
In that regard, one of the most common gripes from on-site reporters is the “hazard compensation” (kiken teate) workers are supposed to receive. Recently, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (Tepco), which is both responsible for the accident and in charge of the cleanup, announced a reduction in outlay associated with the hazard compensation, which is paid as a supplement to wages. This compensation can add as much as ¥20,000 a day to a worker’s pay, but now that Tepco says radiation levels have dropped, they will no longer provide the compensation, or, at least, not as much as they have been paying.
A special report in the Jan. 22 Tokyo Shimbun attempted to explain how this change will affect workers and the work itself. In March 2016, Tepco divided the work area into three zones: red, for high radiation levels; yellow, for some radioactivity; and green, for areas that had no appreciable radioactivity. Workers interviewed by Tokyo Shimbun say they’ve never liked this system because they feel it “has no meaning.” Rubble from the red zone is routinely transferred to the green zone, where heavy machinery kicks up a lot of dust, so there’s no physical delineation between zones when it comes to radiation levels. On the ground, this reality is addressed by subcontractors who make their employees in the green zone — which constitutes 95 percent of the work site — wear extra protective gear, even though Tepco doesn’t require it.
But the workers’ main gripe about the zone system is that most of them ended up being paid less and, as on-site workers have often explained, they weren’t getting paid as much as people thought they were. Contractors advertise high wages to attract workers, but then subtract things like room and board, utility fees, clothing and equipment. And it’s been known for years that the hazard compensation was more or less a racket gamed by the contractors standing between Tepco, which distributes the compensation, and the workers, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries. There can be up to six layers of contractors between Tepco and a worker, and each layer may take a cut of the compensation. In 2014, four workers sued Tepco for ¥62 million, saying they worked at the site but received none of the promised hazard compensation.
That situation still seems to be in play, according to Tokyo Shimbun. Several subcontractors told the newspaper they receive the compensation for their workers not from Tepco directly but from the contractor that hired them, and in most cases the compensation has been reduced, sometimes by more than half. One subcontractor said that a company above them actually apologized for the paucity of the compensation they were handing down because their “revenues had decreased.” The man known as Happy told Tokyo Shimbun that Tepco is ordering less work at the site, which means existing subcontractors may cut wages in order to compete for these dwindling jobs. Some contractors have even invested in the robots that are used to inspect the reactor, because they want the work to continue without interruption.
It was common practice to rotate out workers toiling in the highly radioactive areas regularly and quickly and then re-assign them to low-radiation areas. After some time they may have been rotated back into the high-radiation area, where pay is more. The man known as Happy says this sort of system now seems to be on the way out, and that makes sense if radiation is actually decreasing. However, he’s afraid that if there is another emergency that requires a sudden influx of workers, they won’t be available.
Tepco is obviously thinking of its bottom line, and the man known as Happy thinks the work should be managed by the government, which is contributing tax money to the cleanup. However, it seems only the Japan Communist Party is reading the dispatches from the plant. Last May, Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Taku Yamazoe questioned Tepco President Naomi Hirose about the hazard compensation in the Diet, and why the structure of payments to workers wasn’t clear.
Hirose said that while his company intends that the money goes to workers, he cannot say for sure that is the case because of the circumstances surrounding Tepco’s relationships with contractors. With work on the wane, it seems unlikely that those workers will see any of the money that’s owed to them, retroactively or otherwise.

Plutonium found in urine of 5 workers exposed to radiation

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TOKYO (Kyodo) — A small amount of plutonium was found in the urine of five workers exposed to radiation in an accident earlier this month at a nuclear research facility in Ibaraki Prefecture, a hospital operator said Monday.

The result shows that the five workers have suffered internal radiation exposure following the June 6 accident at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Oarai Research & Development Center in the coastal town of Oarai.

They had been receiving medication to facilitate the discharge of radioactive materials from their bodies since the accident and will continue to do so, said the National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology, the operator of the hospital.

The five, although showing no signs of deterioration or notable change in their health, were hospitalized again from Sunday for the treatment.

In the accident, radioactive materials were released into the air in the room where the five were working when one opened a metal container holding plutonium and uranium powder samples and a plastic bag containing the samples inside suddenly ruptured.

Initially, the agency said up to 22,000 becquerels of plutonium-239 were found in the lungs of one of the five workers, while up to 5,600 to 14,000 becquerels of the radioactive substance were found in the lungs of three other workers. It said at the time that the four had suffered internal radiation exposure.

But the facility operator has since said a subsequent check by the National Institute of Radiological Sciences has found no plutonium in the lungs of any of the five workers. It has not ruled out the possibility that what was actually detected was radioactive substance left on the workers’ bodies after decontamination.

Also on Monday, JAEA President Toshio Kodama again apologized over the accident, saying at a press conference, “The agency as a whole had problems in the prediction of risks.”

He said he has no intention of resigning for now but will take “appropriate” responsibility depending on the cause of the accident.

The agency submitted a report compiling the causes of the accident and measures to be taken to prevent a recurrence to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the state’s nuclear safety watchdog.



Burst nuclear container scattered contaminants

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The operator of a nuclear research facility north of Tokyo has detected contaminants scattered in the same room in which workers were exposed to radioactive substances from a nuclear fuel container.
Five workers were inspecting the container at the facility in Ibaraki Prefecture on Tuesday. A bag inside the canister suddenly burst, expelling radioactive powder.
The operator, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, says it has detected radioactive substances from 14 sections of the room’s floor. It says measurements reached a maximum of 55 becquerels per square centimeter.
Photos taken a day after the accident show black flecks scattered on the floor. The agency says they could be plutonium and uranium.
After the accident, the 5 workers were kept in the contaminated room for 3 hours. Agency officials said they did not anticipate an incident of this kind, and needed time to set up a tent outside the room to decontaminate the workers.
The agency earlier said one of the workers had 22,000 becquerels of radioactive substances in his lungs. This level of exposure can cause major damage to health. But it now says the actual figure could be lower. Officials say the testing device may have also measured contaminants on the surface of the man’s body.
The worker has been transferred to the National Institute of Radiological Sciences. The officials say plutonium was not detected in an initial test there.


Increase in Cancer Risk for Japanese Workers Accidentally Exposed to Plutonium

94 Plutonium-300x300According to news reports, five workers were accidentally exposed to high levels of radiation at the Oarai nuclear research and development center in Tokai-mura, Japan on June 6th. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the facility, reported that five workers inhaled plutonium and americium that was released from a storage container that the workers had opened. The radioactive materials were contained in two plastic bags, but they had apparently ripped.

We wish to express our sympathy for the victims of this accident.

This incident is a reminder of the extremely hazardous nature of these materials, especially when they are inhaled, and illustrates why they require such stringent procedures when they are stored and processed.

According to the earliest reports, it was estimated that one worker had inhaled 22,000 becquerels (Bq) of plutonium-239, and 220 Bq of americium-241. (One becquerel of a radioactive substance undergoes one radioactive decay per second.) The others inhaled between 2,200 and 14,000 Bq of plutonium-239 and quantities of americium-241 similar to that of the first worker.

More recent reports have stated that the amount of plutonium inhaled by the most highly exposed worker is now estimated to be 360,000 Bq, and that the 22,000 Bq measurement in the lungs was made 10 hours after the event occurred. Apparently, the plutonium that remains in the body decreases rapidly during the first hours after exposure, as a fraction of the quantity initially inhaled is expelled through respiration. But there are large uncertainties.

The mass equivalent of 360,000 Bq of Pu-239 is about 150 micrograms. It is commonly heard that plutonium is so radiotoxic that inhaling only one microgram will cause cancer with essentially one hundred percent certainty. This is not far off the mark for certain isotopes of plutonium, like Pu-238, but Pu-239 decays more slowly, so it is less toxic per gram.  The actual level of harm also depends on a number of other factors. Estimating the health impacts of these exposures in the absence of more information is tricky, because those impacts depend on the exact composition of the radioactive materials, their chemical forms, and the sizes of the particles that were inhaled. Smaller particles become more deeply lodged in the lungs and are harder to clear by coughing. And more soluble compounds will dissolve more readily in the bloodstream and be transported from the lungs to other organs, resulting in exposure of more of the body to radiation. However, it is possible to make a rough estimate.

Using Department of Energy data, the inhalation of 360,000 Bq of Pu-239 would result in a whole-body radiation dose to an average adult over a 50-year period between 580 rem and nearly 4300 rem, depending on the solubility of the compounds inhaled. The material was most likely an oxide, which is relatively insoluble, corresponding to the lower bound of the estimate. But without further information on the material form, the best estimate would be around 1800 rem.

What is the health impact of such a dose? For isotopes such as plutonium-239 or americium-241, which emit relatively large, heavy charged particles known as alpha particles, there is a high likelihood that a dose of around 1000 rem will cause a fatal cancer. This is well below the radiation dose that the most highly exposed worker will receive over a 50-year period. This shows how costly a mistake can be when working with plutonium.

The workers are receiving chelation therapy to try to remove some plutonium from their bloodstream. However, the effectiveness of this therapy is limited at best, especially for insoluble forms, like oxides, that tend to be retained in the lungs.

The workers were exposed when they opened up an old storage can that held materials related to production of fuel from fast reactors. The plutonium facilities at Tokai-mura have been used to produce plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for experimental test reactors, including the Joyo fast reactor, as well as the now-shutdown Monju fast reactor. Americium-241 was present as the result of the decay of the isotope plutonium-241.

I had the opportunity to tour some of these facilities about twenty years ago. MOX fuel fabrication at these facilities was primarily done in gloveboxes through manual means, and we were able to stand next to gloveboxes containing MOX pellets. The gloveboxes represented the only barrier between us and the plutonium they contained. In light of the incident this week, that is a sobering memory.


Ibaraki plutonium exposures baffle Japanese nuclear experts


Experts probing the cause of the plutonium-inhalation accident involving five employees at a fuel research facility in Ibaraki Prefecture are trying to determine whether failures in safety equipment or procedures allowed the deadly powder to escape its container.

The accident might have been caused by the long-term buildup of helium emitted by the plutonium, one expert says.

The accident took place at around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday when five men from the Plutonium Fuel Research Facility at Oarai Research & Development Center were taking stock of a radioactive substance in an old storage container. This process usually involves placing the container into a special machine that adjusts the air pressure to prevent the material inside from being blown into the air.

Masked, gloved and donning other protective gear, a worker in his 50s along with a coworker standing by, removed the sealing bolts of a stainless steel container and opened the lid only to see a black powder burst forth.

The plastic bags were thick and we did not expect them to burst,” said an official at Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the facility’s operator. “I have no idea why (the plutonium powder) flew out of the container,” another said.

The powdery substance had originally been encased in a plastic container double-wrapped in plastic. It was then placed inside a stainless steel container sealed with six bolts. The container had not been opened since 1991, and held about 300 grams of uranium oxide and plutonium oxide that had been used in past experiments, JAEA officials said.

The container may have been filled with helium (which can be emitted by plutonium) from extended storage, and that may have increased the pressure inside it,” according to Kazuya Idemitsu, an expert on nuclear fuel engineering and a professor at the Graduate School of Engineering at Kyushu University.

Although masks were covering the workers’ noses and mouths, radioactive material was detected inside the noses of three of the exposed employees.

The agency said Wednesday that internal radiation exposure was detected in four of the five workers and that a fifth is suspected as well.

Up to 22,000 becquerels of plutonium were detected in the lungs of the worker in his 50s who opened the lid. Based on that figure, the agency estimates his body has likely has 360,000 becquerels of material inside it overall, they said Thursday.

Under current labor standards, that translates into 1.2 sieverts over a year, and perhaps a 12 sieverts over 50 years, the officials said.

The government allows designated nuclear workers to be exposed to a maximum of 0.05 sievert per year, or 0.1 sievert over five years.

This is an unusually high amount of radiation. We must carefully look into whether the workers took proper steps,” Nobuhiko Ban, an expert on radiological protection and a member of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said at an NRA meeting Wednesday.

Plutonium decay can continuously damage cells in the body so it is imperative to make sure workers don’t inhale it, Ban acknowledged.

The main threat from internal plutonium exposure this is bone cancer.

There are very limited cases of treatment for internal exposure to plutonium in Japan,” Kazuhiko Maekawa, an expert on the subject, said.Gen Suzuki, an expert on radiation epidemiology and professor at the International University of Health and Welfare, said the amount of radiation in their bodies can vary based on the size and character of each particle of plutonium.

March 1997: Radioactive material leaks after a fire and explosion at the Ibaraki branch of now-defunct Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp., later absorbed by Japan Atomic Energy Agency. Thirty-seven employees were exposed.

September 1999: A self-sustaining chain reaction is triggered by the use of mixing buckets at uranium processing firm JCO Co. in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. The accident eventually kills two of three employees, after tainting more than 600 residents.

June 2006: A suspected case of plutonium inhalation occurs at Japan Nuclear Fuel’s reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, but a check for internal exposure turns out negative.

July 2008: A worker at Global Nuclear Fuel Japan Co. is exposed to uranium in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, followed by the exposure of four workers to a uranium-tainted liquid a month later.

March 2011: Three workers stepped in to a puddle during the meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, exposing two to high radiation.

May 2013: Thirty-four researchers at JAEA’s Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC) in Tokai are exposed to an exotic soup of isotopes during an experiment.


Ibaraki nuclear research facility under scrutiny after accident; gas suspected in rupture

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OARAI, Ibaraki — A nuclear research facility here has come under scrutiny after workers were exposed to radiation while checking radioactive materials that had remained in storage for 26 years.

One of the workers exposed to radiation in the accident at the Oarai Research & Development Center of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) on June 6, identified as a male in his 50s, was found with up to 22,000 becquerels of plutonium-239 in his lungs, raising fears he could develop cancer or suffer other health problems.

According to the JAEA, the total level of radioactive materials that entered the man’s blood, bones, organs and other parts of his body was estimated at 360,000 becquerels, based on the amount detected in his lungs.

Problems with safety management at the agency had already been pointed out, and focus is likely to turn toward whether the work at the time of the accident was appropriate.

The agency said that when the worker opened the bolted lid of a steel container during a check, the plastic bag inside ruptured, scattering dust containing uranium and plutonium. Two other workers were next to the worker at the time, assisting in the check.

The some 300 grams of dust was produced when fuel was created for the onsite Joyo experimental fast reactor, which first reached criticality in 1977. It had been placed in a polyethylene container, enclosed in two plastic bags, and then placed in a steel container, where it had been stored since 1991. There were no records to show that the container had been opened before, officials said.

The latest check was being conducted after the Nuclear Regulation Authority had pointed out problems with the management of fuel at another JAEA facility. The JAEA had planned to check 21 steel containers containing uranium and plutonium dust. The accident on June 6 occurred during a check of the first of these containers.

Why did the plastic bag rupture? Kazuya Idemitsu, a professor in the Laboratory of Energy Materials Science at Kyushu University, commented, “Over time, the atomic nuclei of uranium, plutonium and other such substances break down, releasing helium nuclei (alpha rays). When stored over a long time, helium gas would build up, and it’s possible that the pressure inside the container rose, resulting in the rupture.”

Sources close to the JAEA also acknowledged this possibility, with one commenting, “It may not have been a good idea to use a polyethylene container, which had a possibility of rupturing, for storage over a long period.”

On June 7, the Ibaraki prefectural and Oarai municipal governments conducted an on-site inspection of the Oarai Research & Development Center under a nuclear safety agreement. Seventeen officials viewed the inside of the analysis room where the accident occurred through a monitor, and examined the concentration of radioactive materials in expelled air.

Masaaki Kondo, a safety coordinator at the prefectural nuclear power safety division, commented, “We confirmed that the damage did not spread.” The Mito Labor Standards Inspection Office and prefectural police are investigating the cause of the accident and whether the work that led to it was appropriate.