Worker aghast at shoddy work on Fukushima radioactive water storage tanks

January 04, 2014


URUMA, Okinawa Prefecture--Yoshitatsu Uechi recalls with disgust the disregard for worker safety, the makeshift plans and the cost-cutting measures, including the use of adhesive tape on key equipment, at his job last year.

He said an emphasis on saving time and expenses was clear when he helped to build storage tanks for radioactive water accumulating at the site of Japan’s worst-ever nuclear accident.

“I couldn’t believe that such slipshod work was being done, even if it was part of stopgap measures,” Uechi told The Asahi Shimbun.

He was one of 17 workers from Okinawa Prefecture who were sent to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant on June 28, 2012. The 48-year-old from Uruma said he worked on foundations and storage tank assembly between July 2 and Dec. 6, 2012.

He said he was sent to various places at the site, including “H3,” an area now known as the spot where high radiation levels have been found due to leaks of radioactive water from the storage tanks.

The leaking tanks are just part of the problem of contaminated water that continues to build up and leak into the ocean from the plant.

One rainy day in late October, Uechi and a colleague were told to wear yellow raincoats on top of their protective gear and head to the “E” area close to H3. They were instructed to cover the openings of five or six storage tanks that lacked their top lids.

Uechi climbed to the top of a nearly 10-meter-tall storage tank and found white adhesive tape covering an opening about 30 centimeters across. The tape was all that separated Uechi and the surface of radioactive water only 50 cm below.

After using a blade to remove the tape, Uechi said his legs trembled at the sight of shiny raindrops hitting the water surface.

He applied a sealing agent on the opening, fit a disk-shaped steel lid he had brought with him, and quickly fastened it with bolts.

Uechi said he had been instructed to use four bolts, but he saw that the component had eight bolt holes.

Workers were told to keep away from the radioactive water storage tanks, which had high radiation levels, even on the outside.

“I wore a raincoat even on sunny days to block the radiation when I had to go near highly radioactive water,” Uechi said.

His seasoned colleagues told him that the use of adhesive tape was one of the makeshift measures devised on the site to deal with the sharp increase in the stockpile of radioactive water.

But he said he was surrounded by signs of shoddy work to slash costs and time requirements.

For example, wire nets were used instead of reinforcing bars during the placement of concrete for storage tank foundations.

And to save on the sealing agent used to join metal sheets of the storage tanks, waterproof sheets were applied along the joints inside flange-type cylindrical tanks. Some of these tanks were later found to be leaking radioactive water.

Uechi said the tip of a special clamping bolt snapped and fell into an opening between the bottom and foundation of a storage tank, possibly causing damage.

Rain and melting snow had washed away the anti-corrosive agent applied around clamping bolts on a bottom plate, reducing its sealing effect, he said.

And many second-hand materials were in use, Uechi added.

The prime contractor for the work project was Taisei Corp., one of Japan’s leading general contractors.

“We decline to comment on individual work projects,” a Taisei representative said. “We are implementing and supervising work projects in an appropriate manner.”

Uechi said he was hired by a construction company, a third-tier subcontractor of Taisei, based in Yonabaru, Okinawa Prefecture.

He received work instructions from foremen and supervisors of Taisei’s first-tier and second-tier subcontractors.

Uechi said his job contract was revised in mid-August, after he raised questions about the ambiguity of the wording, so he was hired by the second-tier subcontractor afterward.

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Yoshitatsu Uechi (Photo by Masakazu Honda)

Yoshitatsu Uechi (Photo by Masakazu Honda)

  • Yoshitatsu Uechi (Photo by Masakazu Honda)

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