TEPCO workers in Fukushima distressed by abuse after nuclear disaster

August 15, 2012

By MICHIKO NAKAMURA/ Senior Staff Writer

Hundreds of Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants suffered psychological distress two to three months after the nuclear disaster last year.

A recent study found that more than 40 percent of the workers were affected, mainly as a result of personal attacks from people who considered them responsible for causing the crisis at the No. 1 plant, according to researchers led by Jun Shigemura, a psychiatrist at the National Defense Medical College, and Takeshi Tanigawa, a professor of public health at Ehime University.

“Discrimination still exists,” Shigemura said. “Unjust and excessive personal attacks against individual nuclear plant workers could even hinder (the plant’s) recovery.”

The team carried out a survey of all 1,760 TEPCO employees working at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants in May and June of 2011. Of those, 1,495, or 85 percent, responded.

The researchers assessed the psychological status of the workers by having them answer a questionnaire. The eight questions centered on their experiences during the crisis that led to reactor meltdowns following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

Forty-two percent of the respondents, or 623 people, said they had barely escaped death, while 26 percent said they were present when explosions rocked the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Thirteen percent, or 191 people, mentioned “bashing,” such as having evacuees posting signs at their homes reading "TEPCO get out” or becoming the targets of physical assault by having people throw objects at them.

A “K6” test, to measure levels of psychological status based on six questions, found that 43 percent scored on the “caution needed” level, at 13 points or higher.

The ratio was 47 percent among the workers at the No. 1 plant.

The main factors for distress were bashing, discrimination and verbal abuse, according to the researchers.

Those who were distressed by these experiences were two to three times more likely to suffer serious psychological damage, the researcher said.

They said those who tested as “caution needed” will require treatment. Without it, they said, the workers could lapse into depression, alcoholism or post-traumatic stress disorder.

By MICHIKO NAKAMURA/ Senior Staff Writer
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Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant stay at the gym of the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant. This photo was taken in May 2011. (Provided by Takeshi Tanigawa)

Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant stay at the gym of the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant. This photo was taken in May 2011. (Provided by Takeshi Tanigawa)

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  • Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant stay at the gym of the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant. This photo was taken in May 2011. (Provided by Takeshi Tanigawa)

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