Anonymous, Worker in Fukushima-Daiichi, Japan

"Working under extreme conditions"

Since the nuclear disaster, n.n. has been reporting anonymously under the pseudonym "Happy" on his work in the destroyed nuclear plant Fukushima Daiichi. His Twitter feed has over 87,000 followers. He does not want to reveal his name for fear of losing his job and so he can continue to report as one of the few independent voices on what is really happening in the nuclear plant.


Worker in Fukushima-Daiichi, shortly after the catastrophe. (Image: S. Herman, Voice of America)

"Maybe in two more years, perhaps only one, and then I will have reached the permitted radiation dose of 400 millisieverts. Then I'll have to stop. After over 20 years of working in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant as well as assignments in other nuclear facilities, I'm currently at 360. I accumulated nearly a hundred of them in the 15 years before the disaster. Since then 260 have been added on. On 11 March 2011 I was on the plant grounds, and on the following day, until the first hydrogen explosion. We were outside and we thought we would die, not because of the radiation but because parts from the blown away ceiling were flying around our heads. The plant manager sent us away later as he wanted only direct employees of Tepco on the premises, not the workers sent by subcontractors. In this way he abided by the employment contracts, which called for evacuation in case of danger. These were quickly adapted so that we could return after one week and resume our work. The circumstances were dramatic, and we could not even be certain whether we would survive this work assignment. Some ran away, no one could force them to stay.
I and many of my colleagues remained. We felt a sense of responsibility. This is our power plant; we know each and every single screw in it. And our expertise was and still is needed. Even if I'm not employed by the operating company Tepco, I am among the most experienced people in the plant. I was hired by a temp agency when my own construction company went bankrupt, and I had been unsuccessfully looking for a job for quite some time. To this date I am not permanently employed but am hired for a defined project tendered and awarded by Tepco. And so you move from one contract to the next. My employer is among the inner circle of companies that are generally accepted because of their expertise but also thanks to the good relations. This means that my job is also relatively secure.
But this holds true for only a few temporary workers. There is a strict hierarchical system that you can picture as a pyramid. On top sits Tepco, followed by a growing number of subcontractors, each of which receives its contracts not directly from Tepco, but from another subcontractor on a higher relationship level to Tepco. Normally, the upper and middle levels pass the contracts on depending on the job profile. Of course, everyone takes their piece of the pie, which Tepco gave out. Around 800 euros per day are paid. A worker on the lowest level maybe sees only one tenth on his payslip. Generally speaking, this is still a relatively good salary for the job profile. Outside the nuclear industry, it's perhaps only half, which makes these jobs very attractive at first glance, especially for untrained and inexperienced personnel.
This exploitive system, which benefits a few at the expense of many, has worked for decades because it never had to prove itself. Anyone who failed to comply was quickly cast out, and there were always enough people to fill in the gaps. But everything has changed since the nuclear accident. We are constantly working under extreme conditions, not only because of the high radiation exposure, but also because now – far more than before – everything has to be done perfectly in a matter of seconds. In some places it takes only a few minutes until you've reached the permitted radiation dose for one work day and have to stop working. Actually, only experienced people can complete the necessary tasks in this amount of time. But more and more employees are like me and are close to the permitted radiation dose. Much to my great regret, this means that I will no longer be used where my experience really counts. Instead, they will use inexperienced personnel who we train for the work assignment. Many can't put up with this pressure and give up after only a few days. I can understand them. People are working in sweaty protective suits, with gas and face masks and an extremely limited field of vision. Some stumble around like they are drunk because they can't see anything. Tepco officially states that there are 7,000 employees at the destroyed reactor site. I maintain that there are five to six times more over the course of the year because so many stay for only a couple of days or weeks. How can this go on if the dangerous work still has to go on for decades to come? Much of what Tepco says is anyway pure whitewashing. No one knows today how the melted reactor cores can be disposed of safely. And this should start in 2017. This is simply impossible. In the meantime, the government plans to increase the limit for the lifetime dose for personnel in nuclear power plants from 400 to 1,000 millisieverts. I support this plan. It's the only way that remains open to us. Only then can experienced people continue to work. Me, too. I belong here. This is my world, my nuclear power plant."

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