As a former employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Akihiro Yoshikawa says he knows about the miserable conditions, declining morale and how workers are treated like garbage at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.
His mission now is to spread awareness of the circumstances surrounding those struggling to deal with the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and to help them get through the winter.
“I wanted to get people thinking about their working environment and do something to improve it,” Yoshikawa, 33, said.
Yoshikawa and his friends are now collecting donations to deliver heat packs and long underwear to the workers.
Born in Ibaraki Prefecture, Yoshikawa graduated from high school at Toden Gakuen, a now-defunct academy for training future workers of TEPCO, operator of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Yoshikawa’s work at TEPCO included supervising equipment inspections at the No. 1 plant.
After the tsunami caused the meltdowns at the plant in March 2011, Yoshikawa and his wife fled from the town of Namie. They now live in evacuee housing provided by the prefectural government in the nearby city of Iwaki.
Yoshikawa worked at the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant, which was also hit by the tsunami but shut down properly.
Whenever he talked with workers toiling at the No. 1 nuclear plant, he heard about their fears of radiation contamination and low morale.
“They used us and threw us away,” he quoted an acquaintance as saying. The acquaintance could not return to the work site because he had been exposed to radiation above the limit immediately after the accident. He later quit his job at a TEPCO subcontractor.
Yoshikawa said many workers and their families hide the fact that they work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant because they fear their children will be bullied and discriminated against for being “exposed to radiation.”
In June last year, Yoshikawa left TEPCO to “spread information about the work conditions from outside the company and deepen society’s understanding of them.”
He has been giving talks in the Tokyo area and elsewhere about the nuclear accident and the workers’ situation.
During the winter months, workers huddle inside reactor buildings to escape the chilly weather. Sometimes their hands get so cold that they drop tools and cause injuries, according to Yoshikawa.
He recently came up with the idea of sending high-grade cold weather underwear and heat packs to the workers.
At the beginning of November, Yoshikawa and four of his friends began using the website for their group, Appreciate Fukushima Workers, to solicit donations. By Nov. 20, they had collected 1.92 million yen ($18,800).
Their goal is to gather 10 million yen to send 3,000 sets of top and bottom underwear and 300,000 heat packs to the Fukushima workers.
Their first delivery of 30,000 heat packs arrived on Nov. 22 at the J-Village work base in Naraha, Fukushima Prefecture.
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