Japan working to speed up decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi reactors

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Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant under decommissioning

On Wednesday, an official from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Toshimitsu Motegi, addressed workers at the new reconstruction headquarters in Fukushima Prefecture and told them that the central government would work to help accelerate the decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

“It’s a long pathway, but I want to advance step by step steadily, having a common goal. Let’s work hard together,” Motegi said.

Currently, the decommissioning work is expected to take over 40 years, but aside from facing a situation at Fukushima Daiichi where neither the right equipment or necessary experience has been developed as of yet to carry out the work, there have also been multiple issues pointed out with the decontamination efforts themselves.  Investigations have revealed that the national and prefectural governments have not been ensuring their own decontamination guidelines are being followed by subcontracting companies.

The Ministry had allotted some 650 billion yen ($7.4 billion USD) for the decontamination efforts initially, and had established requirements for decontamination work including ensuring the collection of soil and leaves into bags to prevent it from spreading further, as well as the wiping down of roofs and exterior walls of buildings by hand or with brushes, and the collection of contaminated water used to clean the buildings.

Ministry officials have been probing into shoddy decontamination work being carried out in Fukushima Prefecture after the Asahi Shimbun wrote a series of articles in the beginning of January which detailed how workers at 13 locations handling the decontamination efforts were caught illegally disposing of radioactive materials in rivers and ditches.

In response, a Ministry representative said,  “It appears that workers (dumped vegetation) not out of malice but because they removed more radioactive materials than they had expected.”   However, most of the workers interviewed in the Asahi Shimbun report said that the decontamination work could never be completed if they adhered to the strict rules.

Even after being informed of the problems with decontamination efforts, the Ministry still neglected to take action, citing “manners” and chose instead to carry out their own investigation.  “We cannot do anything unless we confirm the facts,” Masaaki Kobayashi, director-general of the Environment Management Bureau, said. “We will contact the Fukushima office.”

“Our ministry will not move unless a newspaper article appears,” one unnamed Ministry employee said.

In two separate cases announced this week, Ministry officials admitted that contaminated water used to wash off workers boots was released into the environment.  Other reports have surfaced that workers have been washing off their boots and equipment into local rivers.

Complaints are also surfacing related to the payments subcontractors receive after the Tokyo Shimbun published an article which revealed that workers involved with the cleanup projects were being under paid by subcontractors.

In Japan, large subcontracting organizations had been the recipients of many benefits through the central government in order to enhance efforts to perform decontamination work in affected areas, including specially negotiated rates for lodging and staging facilities in the affected areas, but at the same time had been deducting accommodation and meal charges from the subcontract workers pay as well.

The Japanese government has funded a 10,000 yen “danger pay” from tax revenues, which is meant to be paid directly to the workers in the field who are working with contaminated materials, but due to the fact that it is paid through the contractor it prevents the government from ensuring that the payments actually reach the intended parties and aren’t sucked dry by the subcontracting companies themselves.

In one case, a subcontracting organization had negotiated a rate of 4,000 yen per night for bungalows for workers.  The company assigned 4 to 5 workers to each bungalow and charged the workers some 3,700 per night for accommodations and 1,000 yen for meals.  This meant that the company could pocket a profit of 10,800 yen and 14,500 yen per night per bungalow.

In some cases the subcontracting companies had even been given free access to accommodations through the government, but had still persisted in charging workers for accommodations and meals as well.

The report detailed the sad fact that the actual workers themselves were being paid only 1,000 yen ($11 USD) per day for their efforts, the same amount that they were being charged for their meals every day.

A public relations officer for a prime contractor told the Tokyo Shimbun, “In the past, there were instances of danger pay not being properly turned over to workers; however, we are repeatedly informing subcontractors of the need to do so. Regarding labor contracts and other matters, we are providing individual guidance (to the subcontractors) to help ensure contracts are based on law.”

Japan has as of yet to address the problems with interim storage of contaminated waste which is still piling up after the March 11th disaster.  Only a fraction of the waste has been processed and disposed of and local municipalities are worried about the risk of hosting storage facilities and the possibility that they may become permanent storage areas if no other plans can be developed.

In Fukushima City, over 90,000 houses are eligible for decontamination, so far only 4,000 houses have been cleaned, but without being able to prevent the release of radioactive materials from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi reactors from being dispersed across the country and re-accumulating on previously decontaminated areas even houses that have been worked on previously may require further work in the future.

Source: Kyodo News

Source: The Mainichi

Source: The Asahi Shimbun

Source: Tokyo Web

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