Report on the 24th Ministerial-TEPCO Negotiations on Exposed Workers
By Iida Katsuyasu, NPO Tokyo Occupational Safety and Health Center (TOSHC)
The 24th round of ministerial-TEPCO negotiations on radiation-exposed worker issues was held on the afternoon of June 2 in a conference room at the First Diet Members’ Office Building of the House of Representatives. In attendance were representatives from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW), Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA), along with Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). They negotiated and exchanged views for about two hours. An overview of their exchanges is provided below.
- Prevention and Compensation for Worker Injuries at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP
MHLW announced in December 2022 that it had identified two workers with employment-related illnesses, recognizing them as work injuries. One had polycythemia vera (60-year-old male with about 139 mSv total exposure dose, 60 mSv of which was post-Fukushima Daiichi meltdown) and the other had leukemia (70-year-old male with about 78 mSv total exposure dose, about 31 mSv of which was post-meltdown). One more worker, who had fallen ill with leukemia (40-year-old male with about 124 mSv total exposure dose, about 95 mSv of which was post-meltdown), was added in March 2023.
So far, there have been five cases of leukemia, one case of polycythemia vera, two cases of pharyngeal cancer, two cases of thyroid cancer and one case of lung cancer, for a total of 11 cases.
There are concerns that with continued prolongation of accident containment and decommissioning operations, the cumulative radiation dose of workers will increase, along with the risk of developing cancer and other disorders.
The sufferers who had been certified for workers’ compensation were asked to provide clear details on what kind of work they were engaged in during the time they were exposed after the meltdown. Efforts should be made to make information on the details of their work, the places where they worked, and the periods when they worked public, to call on workers engaged in similar work to watch out for potential harm to their health, and to take measures to prevent exposure. MHLW and TEPCO, however, have both refused to share such detailed information, saying, “From the standpoint of protecting personal information, we will not disclose responses.”
MHLW replied that it had prepared leaflets on the compensation system for workers whose cancer had been caused by radiation exposure and delivered them directly to the emergency workers, saying that these would be distributed to new visitors through TEPCO, and efforts made to propagate this knowledge widely. Participants in the meeting expressed the view that many nuclear workers had not been informed about the workers’ compensation system for radiation damage and cancer, with an estimated 10,000 workers having cumulative exposure doses exceeding 100 mSv, and that there was a need to inform them directly. The MHLW representatives replied that they would bring this to the attention of the ministry for consideration.
- Securing Working Conditions and Wage Increases for Subcontractors
There are concerns that if there is no improvement in basic working conditions such as wages for workers engaged in the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (NPS), their motivation to work will not increase and it will not be possible to secure workers to handle future work.
To improve the wages of workers employed by cooperating enterprises and subcontractors, TEPCO should increase “design labor costs” and raise their wages. TEPCO, however, says it will handle the matter by “stipulating working conditions, including wages and allowances on a case-by-case basis in labor contracts between the employers and the workers, and not be directly involved ourselves.”
This year the government’s economic policy also requires both labor and management to raise wages for workers. This spring, enterprises, particularly large ones, have continued to respond with high wage increases. Both TEPCO and Japan’s government are responsible for making efforts to ascertain the actual state regarding the degree to which wage increases have been achieved for the employees of subcontractors working on accident containment and plant decommissioning at the Fukushima Daiichi NPS and then improving working conditions on that basis. The TEPCO representatives indicated that they would continue to consider this.
- Radiation Exposure Protection Measures and Dose Management
TEPCO and its principal contractors handle operations and activities expected to result in exposure to high doses of radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi NPS by submitting radiation control plans and reports on work with radiation to the local Tomioka Labor Standards Inspection Office in advance and by taking appropriate measures to protect against radiation exposure.
MHLW responded that as of the end of March 2023, a total of 35 radiation control plans and 6,197 reports on work with radiation had been submitted. However, even when asked to describe the specific contents of the plans and reports they had received, they refused to divulge any of them at all.
During the negotiation session, TEPCO replied that during the period between March 2022 and March 2023, they had received 14 radiation management plans and 348 reports on work with radiation. Regarding the radiation management plans, they said there had been no recorded cases of planned doses being exceeded, but with respect to the reports on work with radiation, there had been 33 cases in which monthly planned doses had been exceeded. TEPCO provided a list of the details, one example of which is presented below.
Item: Work consignment for removal of debris on north side of Unit 4, Fukushima Daiichi
Work outline: Since highly radioactive debris remained on the north side of Unit 4 R/B, and was causing concentrations to increase in drainage channels and atmospheric doses to increase in the surrounding area during rainfall events, the debris was to be cut up and packed it into containers for removal.
Period: Nov. 1 to 30, 2022
Total planned dose: Planned: 84.07 mSv Actual: 94.4 mSv
Maximum effective dose: Planned: 9.06 mSv Actual 9.91 mSv
As TEPCO’s data show, out of 348 reports on work with radiation, approximately 1%, or 33 reports, show the actual values of the total planned dose and maximum effective dose to have exceeded the planned values. Detailed verification is needed, but more work is being done in and around the reactor buildings. While it can be seen how severe the exposure conditions are at the site, it is also clear that the measures to protect against radiation have been inadequate and inept. MHLW should provide strict inspection, supervision and guidance regarding the contents and results of each work report.
- Health Management and Emergency Care System (ER) for Workers
According to TEPCO, as of the end of fiscal year 2021, there had been three fatalities among workers operating on Fukushima Daiichi NPS grounds, and 145 cases of workers taken to the infirmary (ER) on the grounds or transported to external medical facilities due to some kind of physical or mental disorder (among them, 33 cases of bone fractures, 10 of heat stroke, six wounds, 13 myocardial infarctions, 11 cerebral strokes and 62 others). When TEPCO was asked to confirm again the number of cases and types of injuries or illnesses transported off-grounds in fiscal 2022, they said there had been seven cases transported to external medical facilities, with no fatalities. The types of injuries and illnesses were left femur fracture, suspected fainting, suspected acute appendicitis, hypertensive emergency, suspected subarachnoid hemorrhage, convulsive seizure and suspected sacral fracture.
In addition to trauma and heat stroke, there have been many cases of patients taken to the ER or transported to external medical facilities on suspicion of cerebral or cardiac disorders. To make it possible to respond to such serious diseases and injuries, the functions and systems of the ER should be strengthened and there should also be stronger collaboration with external medical institutions.
TEPCO is responsible for health management of workers at the Fukushima Daiichi NPS, while gaining the cooperation of its primary contractors and subcontractors. Repeated requests have been made for TEPCO to get as good a grasp as possible on the situation, with cooperation from the business operators involved, through information on workers who have been sent to the ER on site or transported to external facilities for injuries or mental/physical disorders (recuperation status, whether fatal or not, whether work-related or not, etc.) so it can be used in worker health management, and for their thorough implementation of measures to prevent recurrences. TEPCO’s representatives replied that they would consider getting a grasp of information on workers with illnesses or injuries transported to external facilities.
- Regarding Exposure Countermeasures in the Demonstration Project for Decontamination Soil Reuse
Regarding MLHW’s demonstration project for the reuse of soil removed during decontamination procedures, a specific explanation was asked for during the negotiations as to whether the safety of workers transporting and using decontaminated soils that had been converted into recycled materials had been fully considered.
MOE noted that neither the Ionization Ordinance nor the Decontamination Ionization Ordinance apply to the recycling of decontaminated soil, since they basically deal with decontaminated soil of 8,000 Bq/kg or less (however, the Ionization Ordinance applies when there is a possibility of handling radioactivity exceeding 10,000 Bq/kg during soil sorting and other operations). Each worker in this demonstration project has been required to carry a personal dosimeter. MLHW replied that it planned to measure the air dose rate and radioactivity concentration in the atmosphere at the construction site during construction activities.
*The minutes of the June 2 negotiations between the ministries and TEPCO will be uploaded to the Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center Liaison Conference website joshrc.net/ (in Japanese).