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Japan’s ‘nuclear gypsies’ face radioactive peril at power plants via Los Angeles Times

Unskilled contractors make up most of the workforce and face higher doses of radiation than utility employees at Fukushima and other nuclear power plants in Japan.

By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles TimesDecember 4, 2011

Reporting from Namie, Japan—

Kazuo Okawa’s luckless career as a “nuclear gypsy” began one night at a poker game.

The year was 1992, and jobs were scarce in this farming town in the shadow of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. An unemployed Okawa gambled and drank a lot.

He was dealing cards when a stranger made him an offer: manage a crew of unskilled workers at the nearby plant. “Just gather a team of young guys and show up at the front gate; I’ll tell you what to do,” instructed the man, who Okawa later learned was a recruiter for a local job subcontracting firm.

Okawa didn’t know the first thing about nuclear power, but he figured, what could go wrong?

He became what’s known in Japan as a “jumper” or “nuclear gypsy” for the way he moved among various nuclear plants. But the nickname that Okawa disliked most was burakumin, a derisive label for those who worked the thankless jobs he and others performed.

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