January 20, 2015 / 2:51 AM / 4 years ago

Fukushima worker dies after falling into water storage tank

TOKYO (Reuters) - A worker at Japan’s destroyed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant died on Tuesday after falling inside a water storage tank, the latest in a spate of industrial accidents at the site of the March 2011 nuclear disaster, the world’s worst since Chernobyl.

The death is the second in Fukushima in less than a year. Last week, labor inspectors warned the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., about the rise in accidents and ordered it to take measures to deal with the problem.

An unnamed laborer in his 50s working for construction company Hazama Ando Corp. on Monday fell into a 10-metre-high (33 feet) water storage tank he had been inspecting. The tank was empty at the time and the worker died on Tuesday after being taken to a local hospital, said Tokyo Electric.

“We are deeply sorry for the death of the worker and express our deepest condolences to the family. We promise to implement measures to ensure that such tragedy does not occur again,” Akira Ono, the head manager of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, said in a statement. Hazama Ando had no immediate comment.

The number of accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, including heatstrokes, has almost doubled this fiscal year to 55. The increase came as Tokyo Electric ramped up cleanup efforts and doubled the number of workers at the site to nearly 7,000.

In March, a worker at the plant died after being buried under gravel while digging a ditch.

In a separate accident on Tuesday morning, a worker at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, a sister plant of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi station, was injured and lost consciousness while inspecting equipment at a facility sorting radioactive waste, Tokyo Electric said.

The worker was taken to a nearby hospital by helicopter this morning, the plant operator said, adding he was not exposed to radiation.

Fukushima Daini is located some 15 kms (9.32 miles) to the south of the destroyed Fukushima Daiichi plant. The complex has served as a hub for companies and workers involved in the cleanup of the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Tokyo Electric has been widely criticized for its handling of the cleanup of the ruined Fukushima nuclear plant. Until last year it struggled to contain leaks of radioactive water from hastily built tanks at the site, and it has repeatedly promised to improve working conditions.

Most workers inside the plant are contract laborers hired by multiple layers of construction companies. A Reuters investigation in 2013 found widespread labor abuses, including workers who said their pay was skimmed and that there was little scrutiny of working conditions at the plant.

“It’s not just the number of accidents that has been on the rise. It’s the serious cases, including deaths and serious injuries that have risen so we asked Tokyo Electric to improve the situation,” said Katsuyoshi Ito, a local labor inspector overlooking the Fukushima power plant.

Ito said inspectors were investigating the recent death.

(This story was refiled to add missing word “to” in paragraph 2)

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Michael Perry

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