Things are going badly. There’s radioactive water leaking, and it can’t be controlled.
The minister of economy, trade and industry has said that the central government will now “man the front lines” in the war to tame the Fukushima nuclear crisis, but if the workers on-site do not consent to join battle, if they cannot muster the courage to keep up the fight, then we cannot expect real progress. At least, that’s the impression I got after talking with one of those workers, an employee of Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).
“The managers don’t go outside to the work sites,” the worker told me last week. “There are a lot of managers who get almost no radiation exposure, and then they just quit. There’s some unhappiness about that where I work. Some people actually tell the managers, ‘Go out to the site!’ and do the inspections or the maintenance. But in the (plant decommissioning) plan, it actually says that operations have to be ‘directed from indoors.’ The managers use that as an excuse.”
I cannot write the worker’s name, or age, or job description here. But I can say that he is not an agitator or loose cannon, stirring up dissatisfaction. Rather, he is a completely average employee, laboring in an environment plagued by a chronic lack of information, beset by haphazard orders, and hampered by poor communication.
“Now, at the plant, they’re talking about how to assign people to the contaminated water tank patrols,” the worker continued. “The (TEPCO) vice president went ahead and told a news conference that we’d do ‘four checks a day,’ didn’t he? But we’re not getting any extra staff. The management says ‘do this’ and ‘do that,’ but I don’t think they really consider the workers’ radiation exposure doses at all.
“Recently, some government minister came here (to the plant) and ran his mouth, right? When I see stuff like that, I think, ‘Gimme a break! What the hell do you know about anything?’”
Some radioactive water was seen flowing into the ocean back in April 2011, soon after the three-reactor meltdowns. Sumio Mabuchi, a former minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism and an aide to then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, called immediately for an underground earthen wall to stop the flow of ground water beneath the plant grounds. TEPCO ignored him. After long and meandering discussions, that subterranean barrier plan is finally being implemented, but in this as in all else, TEPCO remains passive and reluctant to take action.