Japan’s Ministry of Health is now investigating a company that was tasked with decontaminating the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant last year which reportedly told its employees to artificially lower the levels of radiation measured by their dosimeters. Sources say that a recording of an internal meeting revealed that the subcontractor, Build-Up, instructed its workers to use lead covers over their measuring devices. This incident is said to have taken place last December, a full nine months after a tsunami triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
Employees at nuclear plants are to be exposed to no more than 50 millisieverts of radiation a year, per Japanese law. In order to prevent quickly reaching the limits while working in high-radiation areas, managers of Build-Up instructed employees to shield their dosimeters with lead plates. As lead blocks radiation to a certain extent, the measured levels were lower than what they should’ve been.
Several workers spoke out in protest, resulting in a meeting with one of the subcontractor’s executives. He tried to persuade the workers into using the lead shields, as once they reached the 50 millisieverts, they could no longer work in their field of expertise. One employee protested that such an order was illegal, and after an argument, the executive stated that it was a voluntary decision, but workers say it was clear they were being threatened. They were told they weren’t cut out to work at nuclear plants, and they return to their hometowns to find another line of work. Three employees quit on the spot, but another nine have admitted to wearing the lead covers as instructed.
A spokesman from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the utility that operates the Fukushima nuclear plant, has said that the company received notice that Build-Up had made lead covers, but was under the impression that they were never used. Officials from the Ministry of Health have said that once they determine if any laws were violated, swift action will be taken.