A subcontractor at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant told workers to lie about possible high radiation exposure in an apparent effort to keep its contract, reports said yesterday.
An executive at construction firm Build-Up in December told about 10 of its workers to cover their dosimeters, used to measure cumulative radiation exposure, with lead casings when working in areas with high radiation, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and other media said.
The action was apparently designed to under-report their exposure to allow the company to continue working at the site of the worst nuclear disaster in a generation, media reports said.
A magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year crippled cooling equipment at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, triggering meltdowns that spewed radioactivity and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee.
The Asahi urged plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) to strictly manage the safety of work crews.
The influential daily also called on the government to conduct a thorough survey of work conditions at the site, which has been off-limits to the public, except for occasional visits by journalists guided by TEPCO officials.
Several workers at Build-Up told the Asahi that a senior official from the firm who served as their on-site supervisor said in December he used a lead casing and urged them to do the same.
Without faking the exposure level, the executive told the workers they would quickly reach the legally permissible annual exposure limit of 50 millisieverts, according to the Asahi.
The workers had a recording of their meeting, the newspaper said.
“Unless we hide it with lead, exposure will max out and we cannot work,” the executive was heard saying in the recording, the Asahi reported.
Some workers refused to wear it and left the company, the Asahi said.
The workers were hired for about four months through March to insulate pipes at a water treatment facility, Kyodo News said.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare was starting to investigate the matter, newspapers and Jiji Press reported.
Health ministry and Build-Up officials could not be reached for comment.
A TEPCO spokesman said yesterday that the company was aware from a separate contractor that Build-Up made the lead shields, but that they were never used at the nuclear plant.
Japan on Friday set compensation guidelines for tens of thousands forced to evacuate an area around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant last year, with some able to claim the full value of their home.
Victims can claim the pre-disaster market value of a home if it remains uninhabitable for at least six years due to radiation contamination, with half that amount paid to those who return within three years, Tokyo said.
The new rules for compensation — most of which will be paid out by plant operator Tokyo Electric Power — also allow for as much as ￥6.75 million (US$86,000) in claims for furniture, appliances and other personal belongings.
In addition, there will be payouts for those who lost employment income or suffered mental anguish following the disaster.
Meanwhile, Kansai Electric Power Co said its 1,180 megawatt No. 4 reactor at its Ohi nuclear plant resumed supplying electricity to the grid yesterday, Japan’s second nuclear unit to regain power since last year’s Fukushima crisis led to the shutdown of all units.