Chairman of Japanese nuclear regulator blames declining worker morale for Fukushima leaks and problems

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Shunichi Tanaka - Charman NRA

On Wednesday, Shunichi Tanaka, Chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, suggested that one of the causes of radioactive leaks and other problems at Fukushima Daiichi is due to a decline in worker moral.  Tanaka said that the problems would be prevented if the workers had strong morale in a positive work environment.

The majority of the workers on-site at Fukushima Daiichi are subcontracted and have no tenure or authority amongst circles of TEPCO workers.  Why are the subcontracted workers there?  Because TEPCO does not want to unnecessarily expose their key on-site personnel, who have the most knowledge and experience with the Fukushima Daiichi site, while stuck in the current feed and bleed doldrums with no obvious path forward.  The workers who worked at the plant before the March 11th disaster have the most intimate knowledge of the site and the reactor buildings.  They fill in the gaps where the blueprints leave off.  Right now, human beings cannot even enter the reactor buildings, due to high radiation levels, so the intricate knowledge of the buildings is not as helpful as will be down the road.  So, currently TEPCO is stuck in a holding pattern, and using expendable (red-shirt for all the Trekkie fans) subcontracted workers; who are paid minimal amounts, sent in to do the most dangerous work, and now get blamed for all the mistakes.

This week, TEPCO confirmed that the reason why radioactive water leaked from storage tanks, is because TEPCO decided to purchase storage tanks which were not welded, rather bolted, in order to save time and money.  This was not a decision in any way affected by the subcontracted help at Fukushima Daiichi, it was a cost-effective decision made by TEPCO.

Tokyo Electric, not subcontracted workers, broke their promise made in June, 2011 to the Japanese government to build fences to block radioactive water from leaking directly into the Pacific Ocean.  The utility asked the government not to announce they had committed to a $1 billion construction project, due to fears of the financial fall-out that would ensue, then – did not even move forward with the work that they had promised to complete.

Personally, I resent the very idea submitted by the Chairman.  I think that Tokyo Electric, the utility in charge of the power plant before and after the disaster is the main reason for the additional ongoing problems at Fukushima Daiichi.

I spoke to Dave Lochbaum with the Union of Concerned Scientists, to see if maybe I was missing the point.  Dave also shared these concerns.  He added, “Let us hypothetically suppose, that even if the problems at Fukushima Daiichi were caused by the poor moral of a single worker, then maybe we could advocate that TEPCO deserved to be cut some slack; but it is clear to me what when a large portion of the workforce becomes demoralized – TEPCO is definitely the one to blame.  Each worker may be responsible for their own morale, but TEPCO is responsible for the moral of the work force.  Additionally, if even the workers who are risking their lives are demoralized and have no trust in TEPCO wanting to do – or being capable of doing the right things, why should the Japanese citizens or international public at large have any confidence in the Japanese government or TEPCO?”

Source: NHK

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