Fukushima or capitalist inhumanity. Who cares about firemen, maintenance workers?

Fukushima or capitalist inhumanity. Who cares about firemen, maintenance workers?

By Pierre Rousset

The conditions imposed on the stokers of the Fukushima nuclear power plant show that the health of human beings is not the first concern of the industrialists and governments. This shows the daily inhumanity of capitalism for whom the health and life of the workers or neighboring populations, victims of pollution, is only an adjustable variable, such as wages.

In notes written after the Japanese nuclear disaster, Dr. Abraham Behar, president of the Association of French Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (AMFPGN), asked: Who cares about the maintenance employees at Fukushima ?: Voices are raised that recall the fate of the 50 technicians who do what they can in the highly radioactive plant. But who cares about the 300 employees in charge of the dirty jobs, next to the firefighters and their ridiculous jet of water, and who are in fact the liquidators? Japanese? (one).

"The working conditions are appalling," acknowledges Thierry Charles, director of the Institute for Radioprotection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), quoted by Catherine Vincent in an article published on March 18 (2). Even then it was difficult for journalists to verify to what extent such an assessment was justified. The fate of the nuclear firemen - the employees of subcontracted companies - was still very poorly known, said Philippe Pons, a correspondent for Le Monde who has lived in the archipelago for decades. However, the sociologist Paul Jobin, a specialist in this matter, knew enough to warn: "Without reinforcements, the Fukushima workers are doomed" (3).

Are the doses of radioactivity received by these nuclear workers as dangerous as Paul Jobin claims, potentially deadly in the words of the Criirad, which criticizes the way the Japanese authorities act? (4) Although many experts pretend not to, relying on official data (clearly incomplete) and legally authorized radiation exposure levels, forgetting that these levels have been defined taking into account the needs of the affected industries and not medical criteria. The proof of this is that they change according to emergencies and countries, as if the effects of radiation vary according to place and time (5).

Thus, on March 19, the Japanese authorities raised the legal maximum to 250 millisieverts (mSv), in order to continue sending employees to the Fukushima front and reduce population evacuations. Paul Jobin points out that in a normal period, in Japan the legal maximum exposure is 20 mSv a year on average for five years, or a maximum of 100 in two years, which is already very high, but this can be understood. decision 'of urgency' as a means to legalize their imminent death and avoid having to pay compensation to their families, since the risks of cancer increase in proportion to the dose embedded. With doses of 250 mSv, the risks of cancers, mutations or effects on reproduction are very high (6).

Beyond the figures, a bit abstract, the conditions imposed on the stokers of the Fukushima nuclear plant should convince those who still doubt that the health of human beings is not the first concern of industrialists and governments. They have been described by the correspondent for Le Monde Philippe Mesmer (7), the AFP (8) or the Japanese newspaper Asahi (9). All Tepco employees - the company responsible for the center, firefighters and soldiers who intervene in the plant run great risks; But the most dangerous jobs (having to splash in puddles of very radioactive water) are carried out by the employees of the subcontracted companies: Fukushima slaughtered people […] lay cables to restore electricity, clear the rubble that piled up everywhere, water private reactors with cooling systems and trying to relaunch the operation of the equipment.

It's a matter of cutting costs: despite the toughness of the task, risk workers are undernourished! "We eat twice a day. For breakfast, energy cookies; for dinner, instant rice and canned food," explains Kazuma Yokota, a guard at the plant, to a Japanese television team. There is no food at noon. During the first days of the crisis, each participant only received one and a half liters of bottled water. They sleep (briefly) in precarious conditions on the same site in Fukushima, in a building designed to be partially resistant to radiation, on a mat and with a lead blanket, which supposedly protects them: Employees sleep in groups in the rooms of meeting, hallways or near restrooms. They all sleep directly on the ground (10).

The "nuclear gypsies", as they are called in Japan (they move from plant to plant, from site to site, depending on their needs (also in France they speak of the "nuclear nomads"), live by Both 24 hours a day in a contaminated environment. However, there is a drastic lack of protective equipment. Sometimes they only had one dosimeter for every two people, according to Tepco, after the March 11 catastrophe, only 320 dosimeters remained in good condition, the 5,000 that were officially in stock (11). They are wearing rubber boots or plastic ankle boots. As working conditions are increasingly dangerous, I do not think that you can find other wage earners who agree to go there, a subcontractor to the newspaper Asahi (12).

The antinuclear movement not only the unions must assume the defense of the wage earners in danger. As Abraham Behar points out, only workers run a double risk, that of large doses associated with accidents and that of lower doses like the entire exposed and contaminated population […] Forgive the old medical reflex that considers that the life of each patient is 'the most precious good' and asks: what solidarity can we, should we, put up with the shadowy Japanese casual workers? The trade union movement has known how to mobilize itself due to the eventual problems of the nuclear industry and the European Union has taken some projective measures. And what do we do?

Although the apologists for nuclear power may not like it, the seriousness of the danger facing those involved in Fukushima leaves no doubt. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Welfare (13) of Japan recognizes it in its own way: "It is never good to have a type of job that requires putting your life in danger," one of its senior officials told Asahi newspaper, " however, the importance of solving the situation at the nuclear power plant goes beyond the social policy framework. I am not sure that the current priority is the safety of the workers. " Although in a somewhat elliptical language, it is not possible to speak more clearly (14).

The more precarious work is, the more the blackmail of employment influences the wage earners and the subcontractors the blackmail of the market. Paul Jobin points out that under these conditions these workers often work without respecting the protection regulations. The employer of a small company near Fukushima 1, who had worked for manufacturers of nuclear reactors (General Electric, Hitach, ...), showed me in 2002 the seal without anomalies that he had used for years to falsify the health card of the workers under his charge, until he himself suffered cancer and was rejected by Tepco (15).

The nuclear risk is hidden everywhere, starting with France. Given the circumstances, the government decrees of March 30 on the conditions for workers to benefit from early retirement (16) acquire symbolic value. The carcinogenic ionizing radiation (radioactivity), mentioned above, was discreetly removed from the list, although it appeared in the draft decree presented on February 23.

"Thus, the personnel of the nuclear industry, and in particular the employees of the contractors, who are those who suffer the greatest exposures, are left aside by a provision that applies to all occupational exposures to carcinogens", denounces Michel Lallier, representative of CGT in the Superior Committee for Transparency and Information on Nuclear Safety. "It is a contradiction and a flagrant injustice" (17).

When the scandal broke out publicly, the workers involved in the plant in crisis have obtained better conditions of protection and compensation while waiting for the employees of the subcontractors to also benefit from the new measures. But all of this speaks volumes about the government and nuclear industry's lack of preparedness for a major accident. Tepco has had to confess that, with regard to its own employees, it had not foreseen a level of premium corresponding to the current crisis, and had never foreseen a situation in which workers would have to intervene continuously under a high level of radiation ( 18).

This shows the daily inhumanity of capitalism for whom the health and life of the workers or neighboring populations, victims of pollution, is only an adjustable variable, such as wages. In the name of shareholder interest, Tepco had refused to adopt legally required security measures, and had undercut the insurance contracts. If necessary, tomorrow he will declare bankruptcy to leave the burden of compensation to the State.

But the Tokyo Electric Power Compagny (Tepco) is not a fringe representative in the business world. Founded in 1951, this Japanese multinational has become the largest private electricity producer in the world. Nothing less! Tepco's politics sheds a stark light on the reverse of the set, on the nature of really existing capitalism.

Pierre Rousset - Viento Sur - - Press Correspondence Bulletin - Uruguay - April 2011


1. Humanité, 03/21/2011. See in ESSF (art. 20978):? Fukushima, manutentionnaires, radiations, seuils et disarmement.

2. Les? Liquidateurs de la centrale travaillent dans de conditions affreuses, Le Monde, 03/19/2011.

3. Le Monde, 03/24/2011. Paul Jobin, a sociologist, is a specialist in Japan, a full professor at the University of Paris-Diderot. He has studied the situation of workers in the nuclear industry in the archipelago and in particular at the Fukushima 1 plant.

4. Ciirad: Independent Commission for Investigation and Information on Radioactivity. 21101) its recent statement: The Japanese nuclear safety authority considers that accidents at the Fukushima Daichi power plant should be classified at level 7, the highest.

5. On the health consequences of nuclear radiation, see especially in ESSF Annie Thébaud-Mony (art. 20786), Nucléaire: la catastrophe sanitaire, and Paul Benkimoun (art. 20795), Fukushima: irradiation, contamination .. , both initially appeared in Le Monde.

6. op.cit.

7. Le quotidien radioactif des liquidateurs de Fukushima, Le Monde, 2/04/2011.

8. See EDDF (art. 21122): Fukushima: l unsupportable quotidien des liquidateurs de la centrale nucléaire

9. See especially in ESSF (art. 20992) in its edition in English of 04/05/2011: Fukushima: Worker safety takes back seat in dealing with nuclear crisis

10. AFP, op.cit

11. Asahi, op.cit

12. AFP, op.cit

13. Ministry of Health, labor and Welfare

14. Asahi, op.cit

15. Philipe Pons, op.cit.

16. That is, a 100% retirement at age 60.

17. Francine Aizicovici, L’exposition to radioactivity is exclusive of the critics for the anticipated portrait, Le Monde, 04/15/2011.

18. Asahi, op.cit

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