– Fukushima Watch: Doctoring Dosimeters — How Far Did It Go? (Wall Street Journal, July 23, 2012):
Over the weekend, a subcontractor that worked at the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant confessed to asking some of its employees to put lead covers on their dosimeters in order to keep their radiation exposure readings artificially low.
Now, Japanese officials are trying to figure out whether the subcontractor, a small Fukushima Prefecture-based firm, was the only one to doctor dosimeters or whether other companies may have done the same.
“If other companies got away with doing this as well, that would be incredible,” Tatsuya Hariu, a spokesman for Fukushima Prefecture’s Labor Division, which is spearheading the probe into the matter, told JRT. “It would be something that impacted everyone who works at nuclear plants. We’re not just targeting (the one firm) — we’re looking into whether other companies properly recorded radiation exposure.”
The disclosures highlight what experts say could be a major staffing problem as the work of cleaning up one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters stretches on — possibly as long as 40 years. There’s a limited pool of people qualified and willing to work in an environment that’s still highly radioactive in places. When these people hit maximum radiation-exposure levels they are mandated to stop working at the plant. Yet replacement workers — especially in specialized fields — aren’t easy to come by.
Those maximum levels are now set at 50 millisieverts per year, the same as they were before the accident for workers at nuclear power plants. Last year, following the accident, the government initially raised the maximum level to 250 millisieverts per year, then lowered it later in the year to 100 millisieverts per year. Many companies set their own exposure limits much lower than 100 millisieverts for their own workers and those of subcontractors, which exacerbated worries that Tepco would burn through its available workforce too soon.
Fukushima Daiichi operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. has said staffing the cleanup will be a big problem. Tepco and its subcontractors have already been reprimanded by nuclear watchdogs in Japan for sloppy record-keeping and lax measures for tracking radiation exposure of workers, a task made more complicated because the people on the ground often work for subcontractors to other subcontractors.
On Monday, Tokyo Energy & Systems Inc., the Tepco subcontractor that hired the firm that doctored the dosimeters, released more details of its own hearings into the matter, saying that only five people from the company wore the lead-covered dosimeters, for only one day, December 1, 2011. Tokyo Enesys also said that the readings from the doctored dosimeters weren’t significantly different from what it had expected for that day, or from readings from other workers’ dosimeters.
Tokyo Enesys told JRT it’s continuing in its own probe to see whether other subcontractors may have done similar things, but that since it handles 400 to 500 subcontractors, the investigation will take a while.
Tokyo Enesys said it has no evidence so far that any other company doctored dosimeters.