TEPCO has responsibility for creating jobs in areas hit by crisis at nuclear plant
Workers who are trying to repair reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, which was hit by a massive tsunami triggered by the March 11 killer quake, are drawing worldwide attention. I have covered their work and their sense of mission in which they are working hard to cool down the reactors and prevent radiation leaks while risking their own lives is indeed respectable.
At the same time, the crisis at the plant demonstrates that the workers have to engage in such dangerous work because the local community relies heavily on the nuclear plant for job opportunities. The regional economy is in such a serious situation.
People living far away from areas affected by the nuclear crisis should also consider ways to create regional communities in which residents can lead their lives without relying on nuclear power plants.
I went to the Fukushima Prefecture city of Iwaki -- a core city in the Hamadori district along the Pacific coast -- in late March. Many residents in areas around the plant had traveled to the city in order to take shelter there, and workers who were stuck inside the plant were taking brief breaks there.
Workers who were allowed to leave the plant after long, harsh work were all tight-lipped. Their long beards and deep wrinkles between their eyebrows illustrated the tough work they were engaged in. The purple-red jerseys they were wearing in place of their contaminated work clothes looked like proof that they were taking a break in a safe place.
Workers at the plant are based in its special quake-resistant building. They cannot enjoy decent meals or sleep properly in such a building. They also confront invisible radiation at the plant.
They say they were unable to promptly grasp the situation at the plant because it was changing so often following the disaster. When a hydrogen explosion occurred in the building housing one of the reactors the day after the quake, a 47-year-old employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), who was in the special quake-resistant building, only felt that the vibrations caused by the blast were different from those of a quake. He said he was unable to see through buildings housing reactors that were hundreds of meters away, and learned of the explosion from NHK TV news.
What struck me was that workers range in age from those in their 20s to 60s. It was about 15 years ago that I, a native of Tokyo, met with a worker at a nuclear power plant for the first time. When I talked with a homeless man, he told me proudly, "I previously worked at a nuclear power plant. I was exposed to radiation, but I'm all right." That encounter gave me the impression that single, middle-aged or elderly people work at nuclear plants.
This time, I met with many workers who belong to the same generation as mine and are raising children. A 35-year-old TEPCO employee, who was urged to flee the city of Minami-Soma, said he moved shelters three times. "Still, I was relocated on fewer occasions than many others."
When asked why he chose to return to the crippled plant, he said, "I've been engaged in this work," expressing a sense of mission he harbors.
At an evacuation shelter in Iwaki, I interviewed many workers who were at the plant when the disaster struck. There are many offices of subcontractors on the premises of the plant, and a total of some 10,000 people were working at TEPCO's Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants. I felt that nuclear plants are at the center of many huge towns. The plants are not just dry machines, but need the support of many people to function.
There have been discussions about the risks of radiation leaks from nuclear plants for nearly half a century. Those in favor of nuclear power plants have pointed out that such plants are indispensable in Japan, which is short of natural resources. Opponents have cited their concern about radiation leaks and called for the introduction of substitute energy sources.
A 37-year-old former employee of a subcontractor, who had worked at Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant for nearly 20 years, said he is relieved because he will likely find a new job at another nuclear plant.
"Without nuclear power plants, I would lose my job. I now feel relieved because I've learned I'll probably get a new job at another plant," he said at an evacuation shelter.
Another employee of a subcontractor in his 30s expressed concern about being forced to work to repair the damaged reactors. "If I'm asked to assist in the work, I'll have no choice but to comply."
Their statements demonstrate the serious reality of the regional community -- many local residents have no choice but to work at nuclear plants despite fears of radiation exposure. TEPCO has three nuclear power stations -- Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 and Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata Prefecture. All three plants are situated in Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s service area. Nevertheless, all power generated at these plants is sent to TEPCO's service area around Tokyo. TEPCO built its nuclear power plants far away from its headquarters in the capital while claiming that the facilities are safe, and won support from the communities that host the plants by creating many jobs for local residents. However, its claim has collapsed.
Ironically, TEPCO is required to play an important role in efforts to restore disaster-hit areas. It is one of a few companies that can create numerous job opportunities in rural areas. Since it is clear that the employment situation will worsen in quake- and tsunami-hit areas, TEPCO has a responsibility to create more jobs for local residents. It remains to be seen how the management of the power supplier will be restructured but in any case, it cannot be recognized that the company has fulfilled its responsibility for the crisis at the nuclear plant even if it uses its own money and public funds to pay compensation to those affected. In addition to paying compensation, TEPCO must create work opportunities.
TEPCO should cooperate with the national government and other businesses in creating jobs in a bid to help restore quake-hit communities in Fukushima Prefecture. The power supplier has no choice but to dismantle the disaster-hit nuclear power plant that has caused anxiety to local residents. It should create jobs through its work to dismantle the plant, and become a global model of a next-generation power supplier as a symbol of the restoration of disaster-hit areas.
Specifically, TEPCO should consider making the region a model area for the introduction of a smart grid -- a next-generation network for efficiently transmitting electric power generated by recyclable energy. The possibility should be pursued that the area will be made a base for the research and development of electric vehicles in a bid to help the regional community that relies heavily on automobiles despite a shortage of gasoline.
I would like to emphasize to TEPCO, "You are needed for the restoration of Fukushima. ("As I see it" by Sadayuki Mori, City News Department)
毎日新聞 2011年4月6日 0時06分