A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) subcontractor forced nine workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to cover their radiation-monitoring meters with lead plates so they would stay under a safety threshold for exposure, Kyodo News reports. An executive at the firm Build-Up told workers, hired to insulate pipes at a water treatment facility, to cover their dosimeters – used to measure cumulative radiation exposure – when working in high radiation areas.
“Unless we hide it with lead, exposure will max out and we cannot work,” the executive was said in a recording reported by Japanese media.
The Guardian reports that Japanese authorities are now investigating other subcontractors because it is believed that the practice was widespread.
In Japan the legally permissible annual exposure is 50 millisieverts for nuclear plant workers during normal operations. The government had raised the emergency exposure right after the accident but lowered it in late November.
The massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, led to a breach of containment structures at the Fukushima plant that released a lot of radiation, keeping large areas around the plant off limits for more than a year later.
CNN reports that a government report released Monday criticised TEPCO, the Fukushima plant operator, for having “insufficient” preparations and an “inadequate” response to the crisis.
The 10-member panel wrote that interference by then-prime minister Naoto Kan created confusion in the response to the crisis and that TEPCO still doesn’t seem aggressive enough in examining the causes of the accident so that it can prevent a recurrence.
The investigation followed another damning report, this one from an independent parliamentary commission, which stated that the crisis was a “man-made disaster” resulting from “collusion between the government, the regulators and TEPCO, and the lack of governance by said parties.”
Geoff Brumfiel writes in the journal Nature that “it is remarkable how little we still know” about the the impact of the radiation exposure following the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986. Brumfiel notes that scientists have not reached a consensus on how much radioactivity the plant released, who was exposed and when, or the effects of different levels of radiation exposure on the human body.
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