Fukushima Worker Sues TEPCO Alleging Negligence, Injuries

Members of Japan Ground Self-Defense Force in protective gear receive radiation screening in Minamisoma in Fukushima prefecture, after searching for bodies at an area devastated by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami. (Photo: Reuters.)

Fukushima Worker Sues TEPCO Alleging Negligence, Injuries

'We shouldn't even have been there'

A former worker at the Fukushima nuclear plant is suing the operator, alleging that workers were knowingly sent into the plant following the March 2011 meltdown without warnings of or adequate protection against highly-radioactive water.

The worker, identified by the Associated Press only as Shinichi, said Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) officials "knew the risks posted by highly radioactive water that was pooling in the reactor buildings," but sent the crews in anyway.

The worker was part of a six-member team sent to lay electric cables in the basement of the Unit 3 reactor on March 24, 2011, 10 days after the reactor exploded, the APreports. He said his team was charged with restoring power to pumps to inject cooling water into its overheating spent fuel pool.

Shinichi, 46,claims he suffered non life-threatening radiation burns.

He said the team wore double-layer coveralls and waterproof hazmat suits, charloal-filtered, full-face masks and double-layered rubber gloves. Some wore knee-high or shorter boots. He told the AP they were told the radioactivity might be high but shouldn't be a problem.

Shinichi said he saw steam rising from the surface of the water in the basement, and that alarms set to go off before they reach maximum levels, sounded several times, but the team leader said they had sounded in error.

The AP continues:

Shinichi, 46, described a harrowing scene of darkness and fear, wading with headlamps into a flooded basement through steaming radioactive water that felt warm even through workers' boots. 'It was outrageous. We shouldn't even have been there,' he said.

Shinichi, who spoke with the AP only on the condition that he not be photographed due to fears of harassment, said TEPCO stopped calling him for jobs in March, and he now works on decontamination of "hot spots" in Fukushima prefecture.

He said he decided to take action because he's "had enough of this unjust treatment ... I don't have education, and I'm already over 40. There is little choice. I was dumped. I worked hard, sacrificed my family and my child and this is how I ended up."

On Tuesday Shinichi filed a complaint wiht a labor standards office asking authorities to confirm the safety violations and issue improvemnt orders, according to the AP. He also seeks penalties of up to six months in jail or fines of up to 500,000 yen -- $6,250 -- against the company.

Shinichi's attorney, Taku Yamazoe, told the AP, "Just sending the workers into the harsh environment and putting them at risk of exposure to dangerously high radiation is a labor safety violation. Even if TEPCO didn't anticipate the consequences of all that water it had pumped in, it clearly lacked consideration for the workers' safety."

The lawsuit is only the latest in a series of worrisome news in recent weeks from Fukushima. On Oct 23, environmental activist group Greenpeace reported that government monitoring of the disabled plant is unreliable and that some heavily populated areas near the plant are exposed to 13 tiems the legal level of radiation. On Oct. 25, TEPCO announced it was struggling to store a perpetual accumulation of radioactive cooling water from the broken reactors. The following day, an article published in the journal Sciencereported that elevated levels of caesium in fish indicate radiation is still leaking from the plant into the sea.

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