Street Folks in Nuclear Powerplant

Published : Sanya Rodo Fukushi Kaikan (Sanya Labor and Welfare Center) Committee .
“The situation of street folks/ day laborers who experienced radioactive exposure at nuclear reactors.”
Record of Sanya Teach-In. Vol.2. 1998. Sanya: Tokyo.

Online release : Sanya Rodo Fukushi Kaikan (Sanya Workers Welfare Center) Committee uploaded in Sanya blog-the report of street folks, day laborers, unemployeed people, on March 17th, 2011.

Fifteen years ago we published a pamphlet of talks with day laborers who had worked at nuclear reactors. Many of them are devastated by the exposure to radiation at the reactors. The voices and the perspectives of the people who work at the lowest level of the nuclear power plant is essentially important, when we think about the issues of nuclear energy. (We thank the transcribers who typed it up from the scanned original.)

(Introducing Mr. Matsumoto , a day laborer who was exposed to the radiation at his work at the Tokai reactor )
Facilitator: So, we go on to the next person. Mr. Matsumoto who lives on the street in Shinjuku is with us here. As Mr. Fujita said, the electronic corporations never publicly advertise to hire for work in nuclear reactors, but their subcontractors recruit for cleaning jobs. In case of Mr. Matsumoto, those subcontractors briefly said at a train station that this is to provide cleaning services. Even when people actually go to the workplace, they are only told that their job requires some simple wiping and cleaning of some sort. Many of the people in day laboror community and people on the street without homes, were taken out to work in this way, and forced to never talk about what they actually did. So, we don’t have a clear sense of who those subcontractors are, and against whom we should protest. So, we are asking Mr. Mastumoto what kind of labor he participated in.

【Before they took me over there.】
Matsumoto: Hello. I live in Shinjuku thanks to the folks who take care of me. I heard from other folks about this gathering today so I thought I would join you here to talk to you about what I have experienced. My ears aren’t too good because of the war, so excuse me. I’ve been here for five years and I am an old man covered with moss by now. I was in the food business ,which was my profession before. I worked in Kyoto for six years, then I was out of the work. I came back to Tokyo, though I didn’t know anything about Shinjuku then. I was living off of my retirement money, like 200,000 yen (about $2,100), so I did whatever I felt like, wandering about in Ueno.

Then at the Ueno station, somebody tapped me on my shoulder and asked, “Hey what are you doing?” I responded, “I was in Kansai (South-West), but I am out of work and dillydallying.” Then he said “There is this really simple work that needs you. Can you work there for six months to a year? You can count on me.” When I asked him what kind of job it would be, he replied, “You, old man, I bet you worked in construction or landscaping or some kind!” I said, “Never. I was in food business.” “That’s alright, why don’t you just go and see what happens?” He told me that it was a cleaning business, and I could just take a mop and sweep the floor. I was convinced that either way, it would be better than just dillydallyng on the street.

My friends were overhearing the conversation, and seemed fascinated by the story. “It doesn’t matter if you two or three all come along. Let’s go to a cafe and talk some more!” The recruiter treated us with coffee and cakes. Near Joban-line, there are places called Tsuchiura, and Arakawa-oki. When my friends and I went there, the recruitor called, and a car came to pick us up. It was about 20 minutes from Arakawa-oki station. The place was somewhat between an office, or a pool for day laborors where they can get food served and just sleep. There were 15 or 16 other folks from streets. Then there was a leader, or the person in charge, or something like that… he said he is going to take care of us all. When I asked him, he said that this job is not construction, and we can leave by 5 or 6, and do what we like. The job gave me chances to come over to Arakawa-oki, so I was convinced that I should take this offer.

【Labor and tasks】
We spent two days at Tokai-University, heard so many things. Or, I would say it was a trianing. On the third day, we were all docked into cars. I thought that we were going to Tokai-University again, but we went through Mito, and were brought to Tokai-mura, in Ibaraki, where there is a nuclear reactor. I had no idea. The cars stopped at the front gate. The recruiters, persons in charge, other important people, told us that they had something to do, and disappeared. I thought, “they are bit too irresponsible.”

Then a worker at the reactor welcomed us. “You may be puzzled now, so why don’t let me explain,” he said, and then told us that working there will not be harmful, that maybe we can be skinnier after working. We were then asked to change in a building. I was still puzzled. Then, we all changed into those white overalls, the working clothes. I had no idea, but they attached those ones needles to indicate some kind of measurement (presumably Geiger counters ) then told us to go to the location. We put covers and masks on too. We were brought to a place, and they said, “There you go. finish your job”. I was wondering what were we going to do. There was a kind of chimney, a very big one, and a ladder to go up. They passed us pieces of dried clothes with some kind of chemical. There were spots in the middle of the ladder, for us to rest. Because it was so high up, there were carriages where we could go up and down, and even rest in the carriage. We were in it, and were told that was our office. When I asked them how, then they told me to just clean everything inside. The carriage rotates around.

Fujita: Were you inside of the chimney.
Matsumoto: Yes, it was inside. We were told to clean the inside. I smelled the chemical on my clothes, but I don’t know what it was. After an hour, they told me to take a half an hour break. Whoa, the easiest job ever (laughter)! But then, there was a loud beeping...
Fujita: How many minutes did it take this alarm to go off?
Matsumoto: About 15 to 30 munuites. Then, there was something called a red zone. I don’t know what, but when it crosses beyond, then the counter started beeping. I don’t know what the heck is going on, so I just keep on working, but am stopped to take some more rest. After the rest, then we continue cleaning when the needle stops beeping. Once we start, then the needles go off. I thought that was a weird job.

【Feeling sick】
Matsumoto: I was allright for the next couple of days or three. Me and my friends were allright too. Then, on the fifth day, or after about a week...when I come back to the bunkhouse in Arakawa-oki, I felt like I caught a cold. I felt dull, not like in pain, and I don’t know what to say. We spoke amongst each other about this dullness. Then three months passed. Remember: I have bad ears from the war, but I had never felt anything in my throat. But when my body felt warmer in the bunkhouse in Arakawa-oki after work, I just felt pain in my throat like hell, coughing around. I asked the person in charge to give me a thermometer. I was about 38 degrees (100F). In the morning, I woke up without enough sleep, but went to work. I thought on my own because I had no memory of doing stuff to hurt my throat. So, I asked to leave the job because I feel sick. I told them that I will return to Tokyo and see a doctor because it is my own body. They told me that I should cope (gaman) and stay. They paid me a day wage, about 15000 yen ($150) to 18000 yen ($180) there, five or six years ago . But that money is useless if I got my body sick, and lose my life. I told them "sorry but I can't continue".

【The death of a friend...】
Matsumoto: I asked my friend if he felt terrible at all. “For now, I feel normal,” he said, but he agreed to leave. He lives with his wife and children in Tokyo because it’s hard to survive only by farming in up north, Akita. Then, I headed back to Tokyo on my own. I don’t know how long he remained after I left.

My kid in Asakusa asked me if I know that friend from Akita. “Sure, I know him, why?” Then my kid told me that somebody called to say that he died. What the heck does it mean? He was alright, chubby as a little goblin. I went to his funeral. His wife was just crying. One of his kids is in an elementary school. I asked them what happened, and they told me that he remained there for a year after I left. Then, he had a leukemia. It wouldn’’t heal. Upon my farewell, I looked inside of his coffin. He used to have hair, and he was even skinnier than I was. He was not able to eat at all. I asked his wife was he in pain. She told me “He died in pain, just in pain... it was a bottomless pain.” I could not keep myself from crying.

There’s been more incidents like this now with nuclear reactors. I’ve lost my friends and still have asthma that I got from working at the reactor. My doctor told me that it was caused by the work I did, and I would not recover from it. Medicine can only temporarily heal it but it’s incurable. I will have to live with this body of mine. I must not let other folks go work at rectors. I will risk my own life to stand against it. About a month ago, this recruiter boss I knew in Ueno and Shinjuku died, and his folks are now in Ueno, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro recruiting workers for reactors. I don’t tell my friends about this but the other day I saw one of the recruiters and asked him if he was gathering workers for rectors again, and told him to cut it out. He said “No, that’s not what I’m doing.” Though I guess folks in Ikebukuro and Takadano-Baba have never experienced this so if they are told of higher wage, they’d go for it, especially now without a lot of work for hire. But I am totally against working at reactors, that’s at least what I want to say to everyone. I might have bored you with my talk, but please, if you have any meetings like this in the future, let me join you to protest against the nuclear plants.

Facilitator: Anybody has any questions?
Fujita: You said earlier that there was a training at Tokai University, which campus was it?
Matsumoto: In Oh-arai or somewhere, apprentaly it’s a new campus.
Fujita: And what did you learn at the training?
Matsumoto: They said something like “In case you didn’t know, although you might be indoctrinated about protest movement and other stories about reactors, your work will not be anything like this. If anything happens, we as administrators will be responsible.” Then I asked if they’ll get me a pension. They said “Yes. We will. It’s a national project.” I thought they used such big words. (laughter)
Nasubi: Did they give you any safety precautions?

Matstumoto: Yes, they did. This is not work like construction where you work all day, and you could take a break whenever you feel tired. It sounded very high-pitched to me. Then if this red needle goes over the line, it lets this big noise off. If I rest a little, the needle goes back down.
Fujita: I don’t understand, why does the needle go back down? Oh, you are talking about portable counter. That one has a needle that goes up and down. But another kind is the alarm meter, that lets off a beep and won’t stop once it goes off. And we also carry a film badge dosimeter, which you develop and measure exposure afterwards. There’s a photo of it.
Nasubi: Hey, is this it? (a photo in the Iwanami booklet)
Matsumoto: Yeah, that’s it.
Fujita: Did you wear white work clothes?
Matsumoto: Yes, all white.
Fujimoto: What about your eyes?
Matsumoto: Wore a protection mask, just like motor bikers do.
Fujita: Your task was probably decontamination inside pipes. How big were the pipes? Like you could hold it in your hand?
Matsumoto: Twice as big as that. It was pretty big.
Fujita: That’s the diameter? and the length?
Matsumoto: I have no idea how long each pipe was.
Fujita: You had “Houkan” right? A radioactivity manager or supervisor.
Matsumoto: The admin workers? Yes, they were in the room below us, not inside the containment structure. They are just overseeing our work process.
Fujita: Don’t they tell you to go outside when your alarm goes off?
Matsumoto: No no, they never did.
Participant A: Did you go to the reactor in Tokai Village? not the JAEA (Japan Atomic Energy Agency) or PNC (Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation)?
Fujita: The reactors are standing at the end of the road. First you’ll pass PNC, after that the JAEA, then 2nd plant and 1st plant.
Matsumoto: Yes, it’s at the very end of the road.
Fujita: Then you worked at the 1st or 2nd plant. Did you stay with the same job for three months?
Matsumoto: Yes, it’s such a simple work (laughter).
Participant A: So you wiped inside the tunnel all the way, with dry clothes.
Matsumoto: Yes, it’s got something chemical. I could slightly smell it.
Participant A: What kind of mask did you wear?
Nasubi: Here we have two different kinds, one doesn’t cover eyes, and the other one covers entire head.
Matsumoto: Yes, i wore this one, with a goggle.
Participant A: That’s a whole mask.
Fujita: I don’t know what the work environment looks like, but I heard from someone it was like a maze.
Matsumoto: You know, I get back from day’s work, and when I return the next morning I notice my work clothes are different from what I wore the day before. I ask what is going on and they just tell me to use the new one.
Participant A: They give you a brand-new clothes right?
Fujita: So they tell you to wear only your underwear inside the work clothes? Then they check if you changed your entire clothes, put new socks on, boots on, and then gloves too?
Matsumoto: Yeah, double or triple gloves.
Fujita: Must be a rough area you were sent to.
Fujita: Did you receive a blue booklet called “Radiation Control Booklet”?
Matsumoto: No, they never gave that to me.
Fujita: Neither to your friend who died?
Matsumoto: No, he never had it. His wife was furious about it.
Fujita: Yes, the booklet works as a proof if you get exposed. If you don’t have one, you can’t even start the fight [with authority]. But they just don’t give it to you even if it’s legally required.
Matsumoto: That’s why his wife says that her husband “was killed”.
Participant A: Were you ever asked for your date of birth, height and weight?
Matsumoto: Yes, I was.
Participant A: Then they do issue booklets of some sort.
Fujita: They insist that “the workers will lose the booklet” that’s why they don’t give them away. Did they ever ask you to submit your certificate of residence?
Matsumoto: Well, no, because we just follow the recruiters that take us to the job.
Fujita: When I phoned Tokyo Electric Corporation, they said that they don’t discriminate against other Asian workers at reactor labor. (all laugh)
Participnt A: When did you work there?
Matsumoto: It’s been 5 years since I’m in Shinjuku, and it was half year before that, so…
Fujita: That’s in March 5 years ago. Between March and June of 1993. Your friend was there for a year, so he must have been there till spring the
year after. When did he pass away?
Matsumoto: Last month.
Fujita: He died of leukemia in October 1998.
Participant A: Where was your bunkhouse?
Matsumoto: In Arakawaoki.
Nasubi: Not in Tokai Village?
Matsumoto: No, it was all in Arakawaoki.
Participant A: Then a driver takes you back and forth to Arakawaoki. What time do you start the day?
Matsumoto: Well, after breakfast and a little break, so around 8 am. We’d finish around 5 pm, maybe 6pm if we have more cleaning up to do. Let me tell you one more thing though, I was listening to the radio from my headphones a few days ago. And I heard somebody like Health minister or something talk at a Parliament debate. He was talking about the recession and the current day-laborer situation. Then he was suggesting on taking jobs at nuclear reactors. To have day-workers work at reactors instead of letting them lay about in the sun. This made me angry. It’s not only knives that kill human. No matter if we have freedom of expression, these words are not a kind of things that should come out of politicians and diet members should say at all.
(Translated by Yuko Tonohira, Umi Hagitani. Grammar check: Aarti Rana)






気持玉数 : 1