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Staff writer The death last week of a JCO Co. employee who on Sept. 30 was working at the scene of Japan’s worst nuclear accident, reminded the nation of the health consequences of an atomic accident. According to Yuko Fujita, associate professor of physics at Keio University, accidents like the one at the JCO plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, alone are not the sole danger to nuclear industry workers. Even without mishaps, workers are routinely exposed to radiation at the nation’s atomic facilities, albeit at levels far lower than those that killed Hisashi Ouchi of JCO, he said. Those most at risk, he noted, are often untrained temporary workers such as farmers moonlighting in the off-season or day laborers. Fujita has launched a campaign against the exploitation of day laborers working at nuclear facilities and is giving advice to those who have fallen ill after exposure to radiation through such work. According to Fujita, many workers are recruited every year by brokers commissioned from subcontractors far down in the industry’s hierarchy. They do simple jobs such as wiping radioactive parts and equipment with cloth by hand at reactors during routine plant checkups. They are also hired to put up vinyl sheets around radioactive equipment to shield other workers from radiation, he said. Brokers routinely round up laborers to work at nuclear sites, as well as construction sites, at day laborer enclaves such as Yokohama’s Kotobuki and Tokyo’s Sanya. A growing number of such laborers have become homeless amid the prolonged recession and are easily tempted by nuclear-related jobs, which offer higher-than-average wages. Poorly informed by the brokers about the risks entailed in such jobs, many workers readily go to the sites, where they receive only perfunctory safety training, such as being told to exit the room when the alarm sounds, the professor said. Both the government and industry maintain that safety procedures are strictly observed and occupational radiation exposure is kept at or beneath the legally permissible level. According to a 1997 government report, the average radiation dose for a worker at a commercial nuclear power plant was 1.3 millisieverts, far less than the permissible occupational limit of 50 millisieverts. But temporary workers who move from one facility to another could be receiving higher doses of radiation over the course of a year than full- time nuclear plant workers, Fujita warned. More problematic, he noted, is that transient workers are relatively uninformed about how much radiation they receive. Employers usually issue a health record book to each worker in which to record radiation exposure levels and the results of medical checkups, but the books are often kept by the firms. “That’s because there is no law that guarantees the safety of these workers,” Fujita said. “Temporary workers have no way of seeing their records, so they cannot receive proper medical care when they fall ill.” Although Fujita said he has personally warned such workers, he notes it is difficult for day laborers to shun high-paying nuclear jobs. “I often go to Yokohama’s Kotobuki area and tell (workers) not to work at nuclear power plants, but they just ask me, ‘How else can I keep from starving to death?’ For many day laborers, earning money for tomorrow’s bread is much more important than the risk of cancer several years down the line,” he said. The industry is now trying to use existing plants for longer periods because it has become difficult to find new locations to build reactors. With more equipment in nuclear facilities needing to be replaced, workers are being exposed to higher doses of radiation, Fujita said. More than 1,000 people worked inside a highly radioactive environment when the core shroud was replaced in the No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, doubling the average radiation exposure at the plant. The maximum exposure at that time was 25 millisieverts. “The nuclear industry is sustained by workers exposed to deadly radiation,” Fujita said. Since the 1970s, 300,000 people have worked at nuclear plants, and up to 800 of them are estimated to have been exposed to radiation levels that could eventually lead to death from cancer, he noted. About 95 percent of the 300,000 workers were employed by subcontractors of plant operators and suppliers. There are no figures available to indicate how many temporary workers have been hired for such jobs.

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