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Special report: Japan’s “throwaway” nuclear workers via Reuters

By Kevin Krolicki and Chisa Fujioka

FUKUSHIMA, Japan | Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:19am EDT

(Reuters) – A decade and a half before it blew apart in a hydrogen blast that punctuated the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima nuclear power plant was the scene of an earlier safety crisis.

Then, as now, a small army of transient workers was put to work to try to stem the damage at the oldest nuclear reactor run by Japan’s largest utility.

At the time, workers were racing to finish an unprecedented repair to address a dangerous defect: cracks in the drum-like steel assembly known as the “shroud” surrounding the radioactive core of the reactor.

But in 1997, the effort to save the 21-year-old reactor from being scrapped at a large loss to its operator, Tokyo Electric, also included a quiet effort to skirt Japan’s safety rules: foreign workers were brought in for the most dangerous jobs, a manager of the project said.

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