Tepco knew full well of the risks from highly radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant following the tsunami-triggered meltdowns but sent in crews without adequate protection or warnings anyway, one worker has alleged in a legal complaint.
The actions by Tokyo Electric Power Co. led to radiation injuries, said the contract worker, who was with a six-member team working at the crippled power plant's reactor 3 in the early days of the nuclear crisis.
The worker gave a rare public account of what happened at the complex after the disaster struck, speaking on condition that he be identified only as Shinichi, his given name.
Shinichi, 46, described a harrowing scene of darkness and fear, wading by the lights from their helmets into a basement flooded with steaming radioactive water that felt warm even through boots. "It was outrageous. We shouldn't even have been there," he said.
He said his crew was sent to lay electric cables in the basement of the unit 3 turbine on March 24 last year, just 10 days after its reactor building exploded, spewing massive amounts of radiation into the environment. Their mission was to restore power to pumps to inject cooling water into the overheating spent-fuel pool.
Shinichi said Tepco and Kandenko, its primary subcontractor, never warned them even though water leaks had been found elsewhere at the site.
Asked about Shinichi's allegations, Tepco spokesman Yoshimi Hitosugi claimed the utility was aware of water leaks elsewhere at the plant but couldn't anticipate the problem in the basement of reactor 3, which had suffered a meltdown.
Shinichi's radiation exposure that day alone exceeded half the government's annual dose limit, and he had to stop working at the plant soon afterward.
Out of fear of harassment of his family due to the tendency of some Japanese to stigmatize those perceived as different or as troublemakers, Shinichi agreed to speak with AP and several Japanese reporters on condition his face not be photographed.
On Tuesday, he filed a complaint with a labor standards office in Fukushima, asking authorities to confirm Tepco's safety violations and issue improvement orders. He also is seeking penalties — up to six months in jail or fines of up to ¥500,000 under the Industrial Safety and Health Law — against the company that supervised him.
Shinichi's direct employer, Kandenko, stopped calling him for jobs in March, just telling him to stand by. He now works on radiation decontamination of hot spots in Fukushima Prefecture.
"So I decided I've had enough of this unjust treatment. That's why I decided to come forward," he said.