Reuters in India has the scoop, and their headline says it all:

Fukushima long ranked Japan’s most hazardous nuclear plant

I suggest anyone who has been following the Fukushima accidents read this longish article.  Key quotes:

“For five years to 2008, the Fukushima plant was rated the most hazardous nuclear facility in Japan for worker exposure to radiation and one of the five worst nuclear plants in the world on that basis. The next rankings, compiled as a three-year average, are due this year.”


“Japan’s nuclear establishment sold nuclear power to the public as a relatively cheap energy source in part by putting cost-containment ahead of radiation safety over the past several decades.”


“In an illustration of the scale of the safety problems at Fukushima, Tokyo Electric had set a 10-year goal that insiders considered ambitious in 2007. The plan was to reduce radiation exposure for workers at Fukushima to bring the facility from near rock-bottom in the industry’s global safety rankings to somewhere below-average by 2017.”


“Because of Fukushima’s high radiation [before the recent accidents], Tokyo Electric brought in thousands of workers each year, often to work just a few days on the most hazardous jobs. The utility employed almost 9,000 contract workers annually on average at the plant over the past decade, according to records kept by Japan’s trade ministry.”


“[C]ritics of the Japanese nuclear industry cite records showing how Tokyo Electric and other utilities shifted the health risks of operating nuclear plants to a group of relatively poor and sometimes homeless day laborers desperate for a quick payday.”


“But even with its extraordinary work force, the average contract worker at Fukushima was exposed to 73 percent more radiation than the average nuclear worker at other plants in Japan over the past decade, according to a Reuters review of data from Japan’s trade and industry ministry. The same worker was also exposed to almost three times the amount of radiation that Tokyo Electric’s own staff faced.”


“The number of Fukushima workers near the annual limit for radiation also remained troublingly high. Over the past five years, each Fukushima reactor exposed almost 300 workers to between 10 and 20 millisieverts of radiation, the Reuters review of the data showed. The comparable figure for U.S. reactors of similar design was just 22 workers per reactor with those kinds of exposure levels.”


“[B]y 2006, Tokyo Electric safety managers had decided that they had to take on a tougher problem to make any more progress. They needed to reform the basic organization of the utility, where maintenance managers faced no pressure to meet targets for reducing radiation exposure for the thousands of contractors and day laborers, two reports show.  The only more dangerous plants from 2003 to 2005 on that basis had been the Tarapur nuclear plant in India, where two reactors shared the basic Fukushima design, and the Perry nuclear plant on Lake Erie outside Cleveland, Ohio. [Wahoo for Ohio!]


I recommend the whole article.  The steps TEPCO had been taking to improve the situation at the Fukushima power station over the last decade or so are described, but the article ends with a punch that can’t be improved upon:

“The reliability of Japanese nuclear plants is now quite high,” Hori and another Tokyo Electric manager, Akira Suzuki, wrote in a radiation health journal. “The Japanese nuclear industry has over 40 years of radiation protection experience, and it is believed that more radiation control will be possible in the future using this experience.”

The upbeat assessment was published in a little-read scientific journal, Radiation Protection Dosimetry, on April 26, 2011, the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

On the ground in Fukushima that day, white smoke was still steaming off three of the reactors, and residents to the northwest had started a wider round of evacuations.


To my mind, the moral of this story is that someone actually does know where the greatest risks are.  Perhaps there will be a new Zen koan:  “What is the sound of one corporation clapping?”