With much fanfare, the Japanese government and TEPCO announced that the Fukushima reactors were now at cold shutdown, and no signicant safety concerns remain. However, the Mainichi Daily News reported today:
Conditions at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant are far worse than its operator or the government has admitted, according to freelance journalist Tomohiko Suzuki, who spent more than a month working undercover at the power station.
“Absolutely no progress is being made” towards the final resolution of the crisis, Suzuki told reporters at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan news conference on Dec. 15. Suzuki, 55, worked for a Toshiba Corp. subsidiary as a general laborer there from July 13 to Aug. 22, documenting sloppy repair work, companies including plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) playing fast and loose with their workers’ radiation doses, and a marked concern for appearances over the safety of employees or the public.
Suzuki says the no-entry zones around the crippled plant are too small:
…the no-entry zones around the plant — the 20-kilometer radius exclusion zone and the extension covering most of the village of Iitate and other municipalities — have more to do with convenience that actual safety, Suzuki says.
“(Nuclear) technology experts I’ve spoken to say that there are people living in areas where no one should be. It’s almost as though they’re living inside a nuclear plant,” says Suzuki. Based on this and his own radiation readings, he believes the 80-kilometer-radius evacuation advisory issued by the United States government after the meltdowns was “about right,” adding that the government probably decided on the current no-go zones to avoid the immense task of evacuating larger cities like Iwaki and Fukushima.
Government-imposed deadlines have resulted in unsafe conditions at the plant, Suzuki says:
Meanwhile, despite there being no concrete data on the state of the reactor cores, claims by the government and TEPCO that the disaster is under control and that the reactors are on-schedule for a cold shutdown by the year’s end have promoted a breakneck work schedule, leading to shoddy repairs and habitual disregard for worker safety, he said.
“Working at Fukushima is equivalent to being given an order to die,” Suzuki quoted one nuclear-related company source as saying. He says plant workers regularly manipulate their radiation readings by reversing their dosimeters or putting them in their socks, giving them an extra 10 to 30 minutes on-site before they reach their daily dosage limit. In extreme cases, Suzuki said, workers even leave the radiation meters in their dormitories.
Suzuki also cited problems with worker exposure monitoring:
Furthermore, the daily radiation screenings are “essentially an act,” with the detector passed too quickly over each worker, while “the line to the buzzer that is supposed to sound when there’s a problem has been cut,” Suzuki said.