Thirty years ago Ryusuke Umeda, who currently lives in Fukuoka City, was exposed to radiation while working on periodic inspections of the Shimane-1 and Tsuruga-1 nuclear power plants. In September 2008 he applied for workers' compensation for myocardial infarction (see NIT 135). The Shimane Labour Standard Supervision Office called him to request that he come to the Fukuoka Labour Bureau on September 14 this year. There he was informed that his claim had been rejected.
The reasons given for the decision were that it could not be said that Umeda's myocardial infarction was caused by his exposure to radiation while working at nuclear power plants and that his condition was a lifestyle-related illness. Umeda said that he did not accept the decision and has lodged a request to the Shimane Labour Bureau (in charge of the Labour Standard Supervision Office) for a review.
On February 8 Umeda informed the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) of welding repair work that he carried out on lead plates in the vicinity of the core of the Tsuruga-1 Nuclear Power Plant. It was difficult to breathe while wearing a full-face mask working in humid 40oC conditions. Welding and cutting pipes with a gas cutter made his mask fog up immediately, so he was forced to remove it. Frequently the alarm on his dosimeter would sound as soon as he entered the work area, indicating that his radiation dose had already exceeded 1 milli-sievert. Sometimes he would remove the dosimeter in order to finish the job during the allotted time of the periodic inspection.
Without even investigating Umeda's claim, MHLW drew the conclusion, "No accident-type exposure is recognized."
Worker exposure reached a peak from the late 1970s into the 1980s when Umeda was working in nuclear power plants. Working conditions were very severe in those days. Even if the work carried out during periodic inspections was not "accident-type", it still entailed high radiation doses. Under those conditions, naturally people like Umeda working near the reactor core were exposed to high levels of radiation. Without even carrying out investigations, how can MHLW categorically say that there was no unmonitored radiation exposure?!
The supporters' group intends to pursue negotiations with the government over this and other unclear issues.
The Japanese Government is teaming up with industry in an effort to export nuclear power plants. People in countries interested in buying Japanese-built nuclear power plants should know about the sloppy management of data concerning radiation exposure at nuclear power plants in Japan and the lack of proper compensation for workers exposed to radiation. In particular, they should be aware of the special problems facing subcontractor workers, who incur 96% of all radiation exposure at nuclear power plants in Japan. These people are subjected to poor working conditions in the first place and, even if they suffer damage to their health, for all sorts of reasons there is no guarantee that they will be compensated.
The fact that radiation-related illnesses generally manifest many years after the exposure was incurred makes it especially difficult for subcontractor workers, some of whom were never even given a copy of their radiation control handbook. In some cases, by the time they fell ill the company they worked for had gone out of business. The problems experienced by workers at Japan's nuclear power plants clearly demonstrate that it is no good rushing to build nuclear power plants when issues of working conditions and workers' compensation have not been solved.
Mikiko Watanabe (CNIC)