Hundreds of nuke plant workers missed crucial eye exams

July 27, 2013

By TOSHIO TADA/ Staff Writer

Despite a higher risk of developing cataracts, nearly 40 percent of Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees who worked in the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the 2011 disaster have not undergone annual eye examinations required by the government.

Of the 647 employees required to undergo the examination in fiscal 2012, 247 people, or 38.2 percent, failed to do, sources said July 26. Exposure to radiation can increase the risk of developing cataracts.

The overall figure would be sharply higher if subcontractors’ employees who also did not undergo the examinations are added, the sources said.

The health ministry is still trying to determine the total number of workers who have not had the mandatory inspections. It plans to announce the figure shortly.

In October 2011, seven months after the onset of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant, the ministry stipulated guidelines on health management for about 20,000 people who were engaged in emergency work at the stricken plant.

According to the guidelines, if a person is exposed to radiation exceeding 50 millisieverts, the individual must receive an eye examination once a year. If the exposure exceeds 100 millisieverts, an annual cancer screening is required.

According to TEPCO, 647 of its employees were required to receive eye examinations in fiscal 2012, but only 400 did so. It said 146 TEPCO employees were required to receive cancer screenings, and all but two had them.

The failure of many employees to have eye examinations reflects TEPCO's tardiness in explaining the risk of developing cataracts from exposure to radiation.

"We will make sure that all employees who are required to receive eye examinations do so," a TEPCO official said.

TEPCO said it does not know if employees of its subcontractors are receiving eye examinations.

Many of those subcontractors are small companies that do not have sufficient safety management systems. In addition, many of their workers were temporary help who are no longer employed with the subcontractors.

Thus, it seems likely that the ratio of workers hired by subcontractors who did not receive eye examinations is higher than that of TEPCO employees.

In October 2011, the health ministry announced that it will compile a database by gathering the results of examinations from TEPCO and subcontractors. When it checked data sent to the ministry from those companies, however, it found as many as 8,000 cases in which names or birth dates of workers were incorrect. Because of that, the database has yet to be compiled.

"Many unexpected errors were found in the data," a ministry official said, adding, "We have set up offices to receive individual consultations from workers."

By TOSHIO TADA/ Staff Writer
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Workers install pipes on a condensate storage tank near the No. 1 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in June. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Workers install pipes on a condensate storage tank near the No. 1 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in June. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • Workers install pipes on a condensate storage tank near the No. 1 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in June. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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