Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, a spotlight has been focused on the nuclear reactors of Japan. While we are still not entirely sure of all of the consequences of this earthquake-triggered catastrophe, or the degree of each consequence, people are beginning to grasp the fact that these plants are not entirely safe (although operators have admitted that radiation levels exceed 1/2 times previously announced). What’s more, regulators and workers at the plants aren’t entirely honest.
According to a report in the online Japanese news source, The Asahi Shimbun, workers in Japan’s nuclear plants frequently hid and lied about radiation levels—putting their lives at risk—if only to keep their jobs.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) maintains they had no idea that workers were going to extreme lengths to conceal the radiation levels they were exposed to, but at least 10 workers and former workers have come forward to discuss the practices that kept them working without raising safety concerns.
Frequently, the workers say, they would not wear the dosimeters designed to detect accumulated radiation levels. They would simply leave the safety gear in their cars for the day.
In one case, that occured about a decade ago, one worker testifies that his supervisor instructed him to keep his dosimeter in a lead case on the job site. When the dosimeter was enclosed in this case for the day, rather than on the worker, it registered nearly no radiation exposure. However, when it was worn as intended, the readings were between 0.3 and 0.4 millisievert (about the same amount the average person is exposed to on an annual basis in their food and water).
According to Asahi:
In reflecting on the practices, the man said, “If a worker diligently carried a dosimeter, he would not be able to work because the radiation levels would increase and set off the alarm. I felt it was only natural to place the dosimeters in the lead container.”
“I have no idea how much radiation I was really exposed to,” the man said. “The company also does not allow me to get health checks for cancer. I am very concerned about my health.”
The workers understand the risks of radiation exposure. But they also understand the risks of not working. Many of them have families to feed and without a job to go to on a daily basis, they would go hungry. Rather than rock the boat, the workers do what’s necessary to hide their radiation levels in order to have consistent work.