Japan's Cut-Price Nuclear Cleanup 福島は割引清掃
TEPCO woes continue amid human error, plummeting morale and worker exodus
Justin McCurry and David McNeill in Fukushima
The prime minister’s exhortation was directed at almost 6,000 technicians and engineers, truck drivers and builders who, almost three years after the plant suffered a triple meltdown, remain on the frontline of the world’s most hazardous industrial cleanup.
Yet as the challenges facing Fukushima Daiichi become clearer with every new radiation leak and mishap, the men responsible for cleaning up the plant are suffering from plummeting morale, health problems and deep anxiety about the future. Even now, at the start of a decommissioning operation that is expected to last four decades, the plant faces a shortage of workers qualified to manage the dangerous work that lies ahead, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the situation inside the facility.
The dangers faced by the nearly 900 employees of Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco] and some 5,000 workers hired by a network of contractors and sub-contractors were underlined in October when six men were doused with contaminated water at a desalination facility. Their brush with danger was a sign that the cleanup is entering its most precarious stage since the March 2011 meltdown.
Commenting on the latest leak, the head of Japan’s nuclear regulator Tanaka Shunichi, told reporters: "Mistakes are often linked to morale. People usually don't make silly, careless mistakes when they’re motivated and working in a positive environment. The lack of it, I think, may be related to the recent problems."