Subject: [cwj 142] Nuke Plant Workers Get Low Pay, High Health Risks
From: Corporate Watch in Japanese <>
Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 11:39:26 -0800
Seq: 142

Nuke Plant Workers Get Low Pay, High Health Risks

By Suvendrini Kakuchi

TOKYO, Mar 15 (IPS) - Michiko Shimahashi, 63, says her life has
never been the same after her son, who had worked at one of Japan's nuclear
power plants, died of leukemia eight years ago.

''He was diagnosed with the terrible disease after working for
eight years at the nuclear power plant. I am wracked with guilt because
I was not able to protect him from the risks he faced at his work,'' she
explains tearfully.

Shimahashi's son Nobuyuki was 29 when he died. His mother says
her son was sent by a employment agency to work at the Hamaoke nuclear
plant, located in Shizuoka prefecture south of Tokyo, after he graduated
from high school.

Nobuyuki's death forced Shimahashi to start investigating the
dangers of working at Japan's 52 nuclear power plants.

Armed with medical advice from doctors and support from a
lawyer, Shimahashi became the first Japanese to extract 15 million yen
(130,400 dollars) in 1994 from the government as workers' compensation.

The Japanese government has long touted its nuclear power
industry as safe, clean, and boasting some of the best technical quality in
the world.

But, say activists, Shinohashi's case suggests that officials
could be deliberately keeping the public in the dark when it comes to
actual data about workers' health problems at the nuclear plants.

Shinohashi collected evidence that accurately proved that
radiation levels were over the Ministry of Labour standards, which find
acceptable more than 5 millisieverts per year allotted to each nuclear

For instance, Nobuyuki's accumulated radiation exposure level
over the nine years he worked at the Hamaoke plant was 50.63 millisieverts  --
well over the Ministry of labor standards.

His lawyer Yuichi Kaido also says Nobuyuki's victory was also
relatively easy, because the government recognises leukemia as an illness
among nuclear power plant workers.

But significantly, the breakthrough provides small compensation
for hundreds of others who work at nuclear power plants, according to

Japan's 52 nuclear power plants employ around 300,000 workers,
80 percent of them subcontracted from small recruitment agencies or
their subcontractors that are often run by shady brokers.

Investigations by the Citizens' Nuclear Information Network
(CNIC), a respected activist organisation, reveal that these workers --
comprising ageing day labourers or unskilled workers like Nobuyuki -- are the
most vulnerable to radiation exposure because they are assigned to
risky work.

In contrast, top technicians only control the plant from safe

Masako Sawaii of CNIC says that for example, day labourers are
required to wipe off lethal mixes of uranium with only gloves for

In addition, these low-paid workers are also expected to
periodically carry out checks of the plant after serious malfunctioning or
accidents, a system that exposures them to high dosages of radiation.

Activists estimate as many as 800 employees who suffer cancers
of the thyroid and lungs as well as other chronic ailments such as
insomnia and severe skin eruptions. But they cannot seek help as the Japanese
government refuses to recognise these diseases as radiation-related, they

''The most brutal blow is workers are not informed of the risks
they face. My son was instructed to follow safety measures but he was
not aware of how high his exposure was everyday,'' says Shinohashi.

The management at Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant has still refused
to apologise to Shinohashi. Official statements released by the
company state that the management was only following international radiation
exposure standards that set 50 millisieverts per worker annually.

But activists are vociferous critics of the system which they
say blatantly refuses to accept the dangers of radiation exposure and
the rights of nuclear power workers to better protection at work.

Day labourers are paid around 100 dollars per day. Shinohashi
reports that Nobuyuki's salary was less than 2,000 a month at the end of
nine years' work at the nuclear plant.

''When he died, his salary was the same as the starting salary
of a university graduate and he was putting long hours and doing
dangerous work,'' she explains.

Japan's first major nuclear power accident occurred in October
1999 in Tokaimura, some 130 km north-east of Tokyo, and resulted in the
death of a nuclear plant worker and contaminated 23 others.

Investigations showed the accident occurred when the workers,
who wore only white coats over their jeans, were mixing uranium in a
bucket, a dangerous procedure they were doing for the first time without
special training.

''They are treated as simple factory workers, not as workers
doing dangerous jobs in need of stringent protection standards. Our
fight to higher protection standards and an end to nuclear power will not
end,''Shihohashi says. 

 [c] 2001, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
Corporate Watch in Japanese
Transnational Resource and Action Center (TRAC)
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San Francisco, CA 94129 USA
Tel: 1-415-561-6472
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