SVCF Bulletin No. 57 issued on November 21, 2014

36th Regular Diet Meeting 

At 11:00 a.m. on October 23 (Thu) 2014, the SVCF 36th regular Diet meeting was held in meeting room No. B107 of the House of Councilors Hall.

We invited a former TEPCO employee, Mr. Akihiro Yoshikawa, a representative of AFW: “Appreciate Fukushima Workers”, and heard his presentation.  AFW have vigorously acted under their themes of “Promotion of the understanding for on-site work and support for workers’ conditions and living environments”, “Establishment and promotion of the prosperous area and a promising industry worth to be handed down to the next generation”, and “Facing with and fostering next generation”

As to Mr. Yoshikawa’s profile, please read the detailed introduction placed in the invitation addressed to SVCF regular and supporting members for the upcoming Diet Meeting.  He was born in 1980.  That is, in the eyes of us seniors, he looks like a shining young guy whose future is promising and reliable.

In his presentation, he spoke with feeling of “the reversion of on-site work and workers in the qualitative meaning, actuality in the evacuated area, and daily lives of those who reside out of the area.”  His speech was full of reality backed by a sense of flesh-and-blood human who sees, feels, and contacts severe daily lives.

He closed with remarks: “Wishing you to understand and relay the true nature of Fukushima prefecture, in the right manner and by the right tools”, “Wishing to know of workers’ difficulties and to send my best regards to them”, and “Wishing you to help us with your expertise and specialty which can well examine TEPCO’s technical news release.”  His delivery – which sometimes became provocative – was expressed in a hot but still cool manner and it posed a dose of positive pep pill for us. This meeting could be quite indicative of the future of SVCF as it ought to be.

Please give us your helping hand 

Good morning dear all.  How is Fukushima prefecture right now?  Sunny smiles are always here and there.  Children romp about.  Adults strive hard for reconstruction.  I actually realize that, since I have lived in Fukushima before the accident.  There are still dire parts but the overall situation looks getting quite better compared with the outlook 3 years ago. Nevertheless, first of all, I should begin with an unassimilable area.

In the Fukushima’s provincial linguistics, we call the littoral areas “Hama Dori” or seaside thoroughfare.  8 small municipal governments to the north of Iwaki city are called “Futaba Gun” or Futaba counties.  There are still places where living is prohibited, even three and a half years since the nuclear accident.  There we only see farms rampant with weeds, abandoned paddy fields and houses with roof tiles missing.

As “Naraha-machi” and “Minami Soma-shi” on the borders of evacuated area and “Namie-machi” located in the coastal and the north areas stand in the relatively low radiation level, a number of people go in and out day and night.  When you go in and take pictures there, your photos are likely to be usual landscapes such as can be seen throughout Japan.  Today I speak about the Futaba counties.  Being a guest speaker of SVCF, I will focus on on-site nuke workers.

Formation of workers has changed.

There is a piece of most important information not known to the public.  In short, formation of workers has undergone changes, since the nuclear accident.

Before the accident, those who were called nuke workers mainly engaged in a wide range of maintenance activities.  These were required for keeping facilities to run safely.  A regular inspection was to be executed once a year to examine whole processes, spanning two or three months.  Except this regular inspection, there were routine checks throughout the year. This work could be done with the reactors in active condition.

There is a word, “nuke work hobo”, as you know.  That is an outdated one.  Most of nuke workers lived within the local governments from the plant.  There used to be plenty of demand for workers. They didn’t have to go to remote prefectures for nuke work.  So to speak, they could live near the plant or coffer.

What happened to them after the accident? Workers were radically interchanged. Currently, an absolute majority consists of workers employed by construction companies.

Before the accident, there was some work to build a new facility.  For this demand, there were some construction workers but they did plain work in civil engineering or architecture.

The reason for the reversion was definitely due to the suspension of the nuclear power generation.  Maintenance and repair work were gone since these were needed for the safe operation.  Consequently, the companies performing checks and repairs were out. Alternatively, construction workers came in for a variety of work: scattered debris removal, building an outer housing, building a fuel retrieving facility for reactor four.  However, the total amount of work looks a handful compared with the past.

The essential reason for the personnel transference lies in one very obvious fact. In a word, there is very little work for check and repair companies.  They have nothing to live on.  If you are aged 30 to 40, if your company loses all orders, most of you quit, don’t you? You cannot support your family.  You cannot live on anymore.  Around me, I have seen so many workers who had to lose or quit their jobs.

On-site worker’s quality altered

Nuke workers used to live in the vicinity of and work in the nuclear power plant.  They were knowledgeable and cultured.  When I was responsible for new employees’ education, I used to say “You had better follow workers who were employed by TEPCO’s cooperative companies.”

These wonderful people with fine humanity, knowledge, and culture were gone.  Instead, a number of construction workers have come in.

Quite frankly speaking, there are many undesirable people who should not work in the stricken nuclear power plant.  I don’t mean all but they have low work morale, low skills and knowledge, and no experience in the nuclear industry. Please note that there are many workers who are seen as trouble makers in the present personnel formation.  If any trouble happens, we will have to stand the gaff.

Influence of the initial radiation

There is another serious problem.  Very important people, such as core nuke workers, had been exposed to fabulously large amounts of radiation immediately after the accident. The raison d’être of the establishment of SVCF is just the case.  The standard is set at an accumulated amount of 100 milli Sievert in 5 years, however, many passed the ceiling in a very short time immediately after the accident.

Among them, some are over 100 or 200 milli Sievert.  A friend of mine even got 800 mSv. Their radiation dose records will not be reset after 5 years.  Even if they have pride: “I should stay here for the cleanup of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.  I don’t mind unemployment.”  So brave and devoted, however, there is a quite grim barrier.  They are denied access to the plant due to their accumulated amount of radiation.

Most of workers are sufferers too

Since they were residing in the vicinity of the nuclear power plant, they suffered from the accident and were forced to live in the evacuated areas.  It was quite difficult to persuade them not to quit.  On their part, they were exposed to a higher radiation, ousted to the evacuated area, and have been unemployed against their will.  It is quite rude to ask them of such a contradiction.  When I talk to a haggard ex-nuke worker in the street, they say “I can do more” or “I have lots of supporters.”

Workers education is a big challenge

Construction workers are very important human resource.  Tough work like debris removal or building a removal cover by means of a heavy crane is beyond common nuke workers’ ability.

On the other hand, what is wrong with these workers is simply that “they haven’t learned enough” or that they are “less experienced” in the nuclear industry.

Morale issues naturally rise up as they work long in the nuclear industry.  If trouble happens on site, its impact on the society becomes crucial.  We come to feel a guilty conscience: “We are the ones who caused the trouble.”  We should work in accordance with procedures, instructions, and rigid rules.

As a practice of our potential, we may provide an opportunity to educate many construction workers.

Before the accident, there was a technical training center at the entrance of nuclear power plant.  This is common with TEPCO employees and subcontracted workers.  This had provided high quality education.  We simulated experience and knowledge by use of the same machinery and equipment as used in the live plant.  Unfortunately, this was not used after the accident.

At present such education is left to the subcontractors.  TEPCO currently cannot cope with such a basic task, requiring billions of yen.  So-called giant general construction companies are at the top of construction industry in Japan. They have huge amounts of monetary resources. It is up to them to educate their employees.  They are officially requested, however, they hardly do so against social obligation.

SVCF members, except for your physical contribution, can be quite high above us, young generation, in experience, knowledge and skills.  It is quite unfortunate that you are denied entry to the plant.  I assume there is still room for the SVCF.  For instance, fostering next generation and guiding the youth.  If SVCF could achieve these roles, I believe, on-site work will change drastically.

There is a jargon of “nuke worker”, as you know?  Please don’t mix all together.  One means a group of construction workers, and another stands for check and repair workers. In other words, there are resident or visiting workers.  Please note they have different problems in their life and work.

Workers’ problems

I will list their harsh problems.  “There is no place to live.  Move to the evacuated area” “There still are so many refugees, so you have no choice of accommodation.  Find an open place by yourself.  It looks convenient for commuting but, unfortunately, you cannot choose it.”  “Very sorry all of you, please stay in “love hotels”, i.e. hotels that rent by the hour. (Yesterday, I went to Hirono-machi and got to know that the love hotels are booked for long periods as lodging for nuke workers.)  “(Due to excess radiation immediately after the accident) You should work with your future anxiety for your health”  “Due to the limit of 100 milli Sievert in 5 years, those who have exceeded that dosage cannot enter the site. You may only work in offices.” “There is a deep prejudiced opinion on radioactivity.  Marriages dissolved.  Engagement lost.  Remember these are real.”  “There is no check and repair work.  Your company is in a perilous condition and may go bankrupt at any time. Hang in there”  “We don’t earn enough so we had to discontinue hazardous work allowance.  We’ll have to reduce your salary too.”  “Local people may see you as homeless or anti-social power but endure such harsh words and do what you can.”  All are nasty embarrassing meanings.  Each phrase makes a reason enough to quit and go out of Fukushima.  In reality, these are serious problems with which nuke workers have to live even after 3-year cool-off period.

Radiation problem

Please listen, all SVCF members.  Anxiety against excess radiation loomed immediately after the accident, however, such unease is largely lost now, even if you work in the stricken plant proper.  When Mr. Masuda, President, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Decommissioning Company, commented in a previous meeting, the accumulated amount of radiation in the plant was lowered down to 0.8 milli Sievert per month.  In the high and dangerous places robots are to work till workers will be able to take their place.

From this time forward, the tough work of debris removal begins.  “Workers may get highly radiated,” is a naïve view by innocent people who don’t know the reality.  For on-site workers and TEPCO employees, who are subject to high radiation, it is quite crucial by any means to create a safe work environment.

They really know the danger of debris work.  They never work in a dangerous condition being seriously radiated.  Creating workable environments and reduction of radiation have already begun.

Who solves these problems?

Not to mention, nuke workers’ problems cannot be solved on an individual basis.  Then, who does it?  “Let TEPCO do that” is a public opinion.  I dare say this is wrong.

If the unstable condition in the plant lingers on, what will your life be?  Leaving the nuke workers condition unimproved leads to an inevitable succession to your children and grandchildren.  Do you want to hear: “Dad, it passed many moons since the accident but why are nuke workers’ and local people’s conditions getting better? If no one takes it, after I graduate from my high school, I will not go up to a university but work in the stricken plant.  Are you okay with that, dad?”  We are seriously challenged right now.  If we have a problem, we should work together toward solution.

In my first year after I quit TEPCO, I called on TEPCO to acknowledge nuke workers’ problems.  Nothing changed.  Then after one more year, I established an organization with my high school friends.  We three resolved to stop a mere lip service and to review local life in Futaba counties as fellow residents.

Reconstruction on the infrastructure is most important

The difficulty of life in the district is directly connected with the nuke workers’ problems. There are no houses, no supermarkets, and no entertainment.  The reconstruction project of Futaba counties and protection for nuke workers are directly linked together, and a safe and peaceful environment for nuke workers is necessary outside the plant.

We had left the reconstruction to TEPCO and the government by just asking “Do that” or “Do this”.  What has been done after three and a half years?

In Hirono machi, the base for nuke workers, they say “When shall we get a supermarket in our town?”  This is just the problem.  Damaged infrastructure has been left untouched. There is no supermarket, hospital, and entertainment facility at all.  Such thing can be settled by a private initiative.

Commuting is also a problem for nuke workers. They wake up early in the morning and it almost takes two and a half hours to get to the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Their return also takes the same time.  Commuting usually takes as much as five hours every day.  Most of the nuke workers are living alone, having left their families behind. There are no environments for family living.  Fathers are working hard, a lonely job.

Recently, Japan Self-Defense Forces went to Mount Ontake to rescue the victims of the eruption.  The reason why they could work hard under severe conditions is their firm logistic support.  Governmental executives establish a firm base and the whole community takes part in the rescue work.  With this systematic support and service, the Self-Defense Forces staff can make every effort for such a tough work.  I assume that the accident of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is virtually similar, but …

Private sector power is necessary

Please look at a geographical map of Fukushima prefecture for the topographic features. It’s all mountainous.  Focus on the area of Futaba-gun.  There is only a little flatland.  On the west there are mountains and the other side is ocean.  Cliffs stand along the shore.

Futaba machi and Okuma machi are also small administrative counties.  It was all right in their administration and management before the earthquake disaster.  After the disaster, reconstruction and decontamination of the towns are solely left in the hands of the small administration of the town.

Basically, TEPCO’s scope is limited to inherent matters inside the plant.  It is therefore illogical to request from TEPCO: “We definitely need a supermarket, so build one.”  I want TEPCO to do their best they can for inside matters.  So, it is a call for the private sector. However, there is no big store at all like those in big cities, on the coastal area of Fukushima.

The stores are managed by individual owners.  They are also victims of the nuclear accident.  I would like to say “Hang in there, private enterprise!”, but I am actually appealing to you all living outside Fukushima.  I think, in a sense, this is a good business opportunity, since there is nothing there.  If a company has a good growth strategy, it will succeed by starting there.  Reconstruction project should proceed including private enterprise, not leaving all to TEPCO and government administrations.

AFW Activity

We of the AFW (“Appreciate Fukushima Workers”) decided to act.  We are currently based in Hirono machi.  We spoke to the town officer, “We are former employees of TEPCO”, and started to talk.  At first, they did not speak to us at all, but they started to listen to us as we visited the office every day, and now they are working for the improvement of the town with us.

I often visit J Village.  The reason is that I have once undertaken to send support commodities to nuke workers in the plant, but reception and distribution of the support commodities cannot be done without help from TEPCO.

Just accusing TEPCO will not solve any problem.  Rather, it will be much more effective to shake hands and cooperate towards a common goal.  “I used to work at TEPCO.  Please listen to my talk.  “When I repeatedly visited the town office by the front door, they open up their mind saying,  “I understand your intention.  I will cooperate with you.  “Now, by visiting J village, I can directly speak to Mr. Masuda, President, Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Decommissioning Company, and Mr. Ishizaki, P resident of the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Restoration Head Office, “How can we improve the situation?”

Activity towards people in the area

We work for the restoration of the town with people living in the district, not for the Non Profit Organization.  NPOs are to disappear when the problem is solved in the future.  In short, what the NPO does is what NPO wants to do.  People in the town are same as ordinary grandpas and grandmas in a county town.  They may not have some special idea or activities.  Instead of accusing them of incapacity we should work with them.  I think it is necessary to expand what they want to do and to help them.

Looking at our actual activities, we started to plant olives in Hirono-machi.  The olive resists cesium.  Inspecting a seed picked from a planted olive, it was found that the result was lower than the detection limit.  A resident of the town started planting olives as a new means of their income available in the area which only rice cropping has been raised so far.

He is a former fire fighter.  Because I have not heard of such reconstruction project, I visited the president to hear the plan directly and decided to cooperate with him. Whenever I come back to Hirono machi, I devote myself to farming attired in a work wear with a towel around my head tied up.

I am also thinking to help people who love this town staying in the town.  I want to contribute to the development of the town, so that the town may invite more people, stores may open, rental housing may increase as a life base for nuke workers. A big project to make children smile may also start in the next year.

Please transmit correct information

I want to ask you all, please gather correct knowledge about Fukushima and convey the information correctly.  There are not only negative but positive news about Fukushima as well. B-1 Grand Prix was held last week.  There we saw many smiles. Let us be fair about such good and bad news as well.  Let us pass over the dark span during the last three and a half years, that conveyed only sensational and negative information centered on the miserable state of Fukushima.  I hope that you would convey correct information in view of the people living in the area, rather than talking only about the nuclear accident.

Today someone said: “Removal of the first reactor cover is about to start.  Radioactive material will be scattered in the air.  Tokyo will be in danger as well.”  This is not true.  The reason is that a scatter inhibitor is applied through a hole on top of the cover.  There is no way it can fly to Tokyo.

The hardships endured by the workers at the nuclear power plant are greater than you can imagine. It was drizzling today.  Wearing their protective gear, the workers are working in the drizzle, getting soaking wet.   To show gratitude to these workers is what will lead to improved morale.

It will take several decades to resolve the problems they are enduring.  At the very least, we have to show them that we’re on their side.  It’s as if they are standing on the markers of a sumo ring, they are that close to losing.  The local preschool and elementary students are sending them thank-you letters.  The adults should be able to convey this gratitude as well.

And please think about the root of this problem.  The information that TEPCO is releasing is very difficult to understand, unless you are an expert.  To unnecessarily feel a sort of unease, and to relay this unease directly can disparage SVCF’s reputation.

If there is something we cannot understand, we need to have an expert explain it to us. For example, it is an option to invite a professor in nuclear engineering to do a lecture for us.  I think the most suitable persons for this task are those that started working at TEPCO as high school graduates, and have worked themselves up the company ladder, and work on the first floor.

Listen to their lecture. We need to start from the basics, learning about nuclear equipment, and build upon this knowledge – that is the way we can figure out the true nature of the problem.

There was the problem of water escaping from the stopper on the contaminated water tank, and collecting in pools.  But think about it.  There are many puddles near this stopper.  It’s the same rainwater.  There wasn’t a big difference in the radiation levels between the water inside the tank and the water in the puddles.  This created a social uproar.  Normally, that would have been a management problem. A management problem, in the sense that water had formed pools and flooded the area, but for some reason, that became a radiation problem, a leakage problem.  The original issue is why it was being managed in that manner.

There are no hospitals

At Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant, several workers have died since the nuclear meltdown. Why has this happened?

There are no hospitals nearby.  In the past, there had been a partnership with the general hospital in Okuma machi.  Now, there are only two – a Kyoritsu hospital in central Iwaki shi, and a laborer’s hospital.  When we heard about workers from Fukushima Daichi Nuclear Power Plant dying, the first thing people started saying is that it was because of the radiation.  Let’s be rational and think about it. The only choice they had is to ride in an ambulance for an hour and a half.

In order to prevent this from becoming an impractical proposition, I would like for people actually to go to the locale, or to have seminars involving people who have intimate knowledge of the situation at hand before moving toward a resolution.

If we all work together, things will get better.  I would like everybody to think again, about who we’re doing this for, what problem we’re trying to resolve, and why you are involved. In our organization, we do this once a month. Things have changed from a year ago. I think it has to be this way.

Wanting a home and a recreational facility

What the workers want more than anything right now is a place to live.  They can only live up to Hirono machi, which is north of Iwaki shi. The town only had 5,000 inhabitants, originally.  It is a rural area, so people don’t live in apartments there.  Most people live in one-story homes.  There isn’t any rental housing there.  It was said that at one time, there were 3,000 workers living in this town.  But they don’t have a place to live there. I think rental homes that would at least provide them with privacy are necessary.

When you ask these workers what they want, they say they want an Izakaya (Japanese style bar), or a place to play.  Some people have said they want stores like a TSUTAYA, that is, a place where singles can enjoy themselves, where they can rent books or videos, and where they can spend some time.

What SVCF can do

Worker training has been done by private enterprises, but this has been problematic. When workers say, “I’m going to Iwaki-shi today for training,” they won’t get paid.  I think it is vital that we ask TEPCO and the government to pay these workers and build training facilities where they can obtain the necessary training and experience.

We should no longer be involved in improving the working environment of these places. TEPCO needs to take responsibility for this.

I think monitoring is the way to go.  TEPCO has made announcements about this.  “We will be reducing the dosage at the power plant premises,” they say.   Everybody should continue monitoring, and ask TEPCO to keep their promise.

It’s true that no matter how hard we try, they will not let us into the power plant, so we need to ask TEPCO to do what they need to do at the power plant.  And monitor what they’re doing, that’s what I’d like to ask everybody to do.

Not much will be done if the general public says, “TEPCO, please keep your promise.”  But you are public interest incorporated associations, and have the ability to speak to members of the Diet.  If you can speak to the government on these issues on our behalf, that would be extremely beneficial.

Today’s meeting was to ask for help. Please help us. The younger generation can’t do it on our own.  I apologize that my talk has been so long. Thank you for listening.

Let’s learn about the restoration and revitalization site with Mr. Yoshikawa’s help

An invitation to attend a Fukushima Inspection

To understand the actual situation at the disaster-stricken area, and the plight of the workers who are working to restore and revitalize the area, we will be conducting an inspection, under the guidance of Akihiro Yoshikawa. Please join us.

  • Dates: December 12~13 (one night, two days)
  • Meeting place: 11AM on 12/12, at the JR Iwaki Station ticket gate
  • Inspection course: We’ll be going north on Route 6, and visit Hirono-cho,             Naraha-cho, Tomioka-cho, Okuma-cho, Futaba-cho, Namie-cho, Minami-Soma-shi
  • Lodging: Yunodake Retreat
  • Participation fee: out-of-pocket
  • Transportation during the inspection: rental car or mini bus
  • Inspection guide: Akihiro Yoshikawa (AFW)
  • In cooperation with: AFW (Appreciate Fukushima Workers)
  • How to apply: SVCF office, telephone, FAX, or e-mail. The deadline is November 28 (Friday).