As the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant struggles to plug leaks of radioactive water, workers at the plant have told the ABC that contaminated water has most likely been seeping into the sea since the disaster two-and-a-half years ago.
MARK WILLACY: Fujimoto-san is 56 years old, and the proud grandfather of two young boys. But he has to hide his real job from them, because Fujimoto-san fears they’ll shun him if he tells them he’s a decontamination worker at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
“We work at the most dangerous place in Japan,” Fujimoto-san tells me. “Not only that, I work 12 hour shifts and only get paid 11,000 yen,” he says.
That’s $125 a shift, or $10 an hour for working inside the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
And if TEPCO caught Fujimoto-san speaking to me, he’d pay a much higher price than that.
“If TEPCO knew I was meeting with you, I’d be fired for sure. Speaking out is an act of suicide,” he says.
I’m meeting Fujimoto-san after one of his 12 hour shifts, and I want to know how TEPCO is faring at trying to stop the leak of 300 tonnes of radioactive groundwater every day.
Fujimoto-san just shakes his head.
“Steam came out of the Reactor 3 building the other day,” he tells me. “When it came out, TEPCO didn’t even tell us. I found out about it on the TV news after I got home from work,” he says.
Fujimoto-san isn’t the only nuclear worker who believes TEPCO is struggling to cope with the crisis at the Fukushima plant.
Suzuki-san is a 12-year TEPCO veteran and a former Fukushima site foreman, and he says the leaks of contaminated water into the Pacific are nothing new.
“I believe it’s been leaking into the ocean from the start of the crisis two-and-a-half years ago,” Suzuki-san tells me. “TEPCO probably knew this but did nothing because they didn’t want to cause an outcry,” he says.
While many in Japan worry about another disaster at the Fukushima plant, the welfare of workers there isn’t often raised.
And for proud grandfather Fujimoto-san, there’s a nagging fear that something could go wrong at any time.
“There are still reactor buildings we haven’t gotten into yet,” he tells me. “So there’s always the possibility of another explosion, and if that were to happen, we – the workers – would be the first victims. I fear that a lot,” he says.
Our interview over, Fujimoto-san peels off his work overalls; he’s heading to his grandkid’s house and he doesn’t want his secret to slip out.
Listen and read more at Nuclear watchdog describes Fukushima contaminated water leaks as a ‘state of emergency’