Two workers die in accidents at Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants

Kyodo, Reuters

Two workers died Tuesday in separate incidents at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and the nearby No. 2 complex.

The fatality at No. 1 was first there since March, although there has been a rise in the number of industrial accidents at the site as Tokyo Electric Power Co. stepped up cleanup efforts and brought in more workers.

Tepco has said at least 40 workers were involved in accidents at No. 1 from last April to November, prompting labor inspectors last week to call for thorough preventive measures.

The utility has routinely pledged to improve work conditions at the site.

A 55-year-old worker at No. 1 fell into a 10-meter-high water tank during inspections Monday. He was taken to a hospital but was confirmed dead in the early hours of Tuesday.

Later, a worker in his 40s at the No. 2 plant, which escaped severe damage in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, died after equipment fell on him.

In a statement, Akira Ono, manager of the No. 1 plant, expressed sorrow for the death of the first worker, who was not named but was identified as an employee of construction company Hazama Ando Corp.

“We are deeply sorry for the death of the worker and express our deepest condolences to the family,” Ono said. “We promise to implement measures to ensure that such tragedy does not occur again.”

Hazama Ando had no immediate comment.

The number of accidents at Fukushima No. 1 has almost doubled this fiscal year to 55. The increase came as Tepco ramped up cleanup efforts and doubled the number of workers at the site to nearly 7,000.

In March, a worker died after being buried in gravel while digging a ditch.

Tepco has been widely criticized for its handling of the cleanup. Until last year it struggled to contain leaks of radioactive water from hastily built tanks at the site, and it has repeatedly promised to improve working conditions.

Most workers inside the plant are contract laborers hired by multiple layers of construction companies. Reporters in 2013 revealed widespread labor abuses, including workers who said their pay was skimmed and that there was little scrutiny of working conditions.

“It’s not just the number of accidents that has been on the rise. It’s the serious cases, including deaths and serious injuries that have risen,” said Katsuyoshi Ito, a local labor inspector overseeing Fukushima No. 1. “We have asked Tepco to improve the situation.”