Fukushima worker killed in accident, cleanup halted

TOKYO Fri Mar 28, 2014 8:16am EDT

A banner that reads ''Fukushima'' is placed in front of a giant symbolic Japan's national flag to mark the third year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, March 11, 2014. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

A banner that reads ''Fukushima'' is placed in front of a giant symbolic Japan's national flag to mark the third year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, March 11, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent Kessler

TOKYO (Reuters) - A worker at Japan's wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant died on Friday after being buried under gravel while digging a ditch, prompting the operator to suspend cleanup work for safety checks.

Tokyo Electric Power Co said it was the first time a laborer had died as a direct result of an accident inside the plant since the nuclear disaster in March 2011, the world's worst since Chernobyl in 1986.

An earthquake and tsunami struck the plant, 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo, sparking triple nuclear meltdowns, forcing more than 160,000 residents to flee from nearby towns and contaminating water, food and air.

"In the three years since the disaster, we had not had any worker deaths caused by work (inside the plant). The fact that such a serious accident has occurred is deeply regrettable," said Tepco spokesman Masayuki Ono.

The utility will suspend cleanup operations for an immediate safety inspection, Kyodo newswire reported.

Most workers inside the plant are contract laborers hired by multiple layers of construction companies. A Reuters investigation last year found widespread labor abuses, where workers said their pay was skimmed and there was little scrutiny over working conditions inside the plant.

Tepco on Friday would not name the worker's direct employer, but said he reported up to Toso Fudosan Kanri Company, a first-tier contractor under Tepco. The worker was in his 50s, the utility said.

The company confirmed it had hired the worker through another subcontractor.

Tepco has been widely criticized for its handling of the cleanup. The operator was plagued by a series of leaks of radioactive water from hastily built tanks at the site last year and it has repeatedly promised to improve working conditions.

Earlier on Friday, Tepco said work to remove fuel rods from one of the destroyed reactor buildings had been halted after a worker had mishandled a giant crane, the first major delay in an operation to remove 1,533 fuel rod assemblies.

The worker started moving a crane used to lift the fuel assemblies on Wednesday without disengaging the handbrake.

(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Nick Macfie)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
marumaruko wrote:
Japanese media argues it was a mudslide which would shift the responsibility from TEPCO to an act of nature beyond control.
Someone must have instructed the employee to dig and failed to support him sufficiently. Also, was there no one around to at least watch?
Terrible man management once again – TEPCO. Repeated promises to improve working conditions turn into lies, unfortunately TEPCO is not the only organisation to handle employees this shockingly.

Mar 28, 2014 11:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
ecoguy57 wrote:
TEPCO has been horribly negligent since before the earthquake and the damage to the reactors ever happened and they have been negligent to this day! Examples: We read our radiation detection equipment wrong, Its not proven that all of those people with thyroid cancer came from the radiation leaking from our in meltdown nuclear reactors, The Pacific Ocean is safe to fish in, The radiation pouring into the pacific ocean has been cleaned, Our clean up workers are experienced and kept safe! There are dozens and dozens of blatant lies on top of these! TEPCO really does not care about the hurt and dying from their negligence and on top of this when an American internet company offered TEPCO a 100 % FREE full shipping container load of the ingestable radiation detox mineral called Zeolite that would have been able to safely remove the radiation from thousands of people that were radiated because of TEPCO negligence, TEPCO REFUSED THE FREE ZEOLITE! Now new cancer cases are coming in by the dozens and TEPCO refuses to take responsibility for this as well! People that feel that they have been radiated and would like to do a detox to remove both radiation and heavy metals from their body should research the single word Zeolite to learn how Zeolite can remove the radiation from their body!

Mar 29, 2014 10:18am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.


California's historic drought

With reservoirs at record lows, California is in the midst of the worst drought in decades.  Slideshow