NARAHA, Japan – Three years after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the cleanup effort is still ongoing and rife with troubles.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company, TEPCO, has once again fallen under scrutiny, this time for dubious hiring practices that appear to target the unskilled and destitute, but are also attracting another crowd: those seeking radiation-induced superpowers.
Experts fear that decreased working conditions has led to a decline in the quality of the workforce, which they believe may be responsible for recent contaminant leaks and could potentially lead to even larger problems.
One alarming incident occurred recently when a group of contract workers, given only a 20-minute job briefing without any diagrams of the systems they would be working on, accidentally opened a hose filled with radioactive cesium. “Silly me,” one worker was reported as saying as he rubbed the contaminated water over himself.
TEPCO has been chastised for resorting to unscrupulous labor brokers, some with alleged ties to organized crime, to fill much-needed positions at the ravaged plant. These fly-by-night brokers hire through many layers of contractors and subcontractors, which results in workers who are often untrained and unskilled, and operate with little oversight. Says chief nuclear regulator, Sunichi Tanaka, “TEPCO does not have a clear picture of what’s happening on the ground.”
One such contract worker, Yoshitatsu Uechi, a former construction worker and bus driver with no nuclear experience who was lured to the plant by the relatively good wages claims he rarely saw TEPCO managers while working. However, another contract employee, Yoshi Toranaga, previously an unemployed comic book enthusiast, claims he was enticed by the lack of supervision.
“I was hired by labor broker,” says Toranaga. “They informed me that contract workers receive twice as much radiation exposure as regular TEPCO employees, and that the area around the plant is currently covered by a haze of gamma radiation, the kind of radiation that caused Bruce Banner to turn into the Hulk. My recruiter told me I would have plenty of opportunities to slip away and soak up some rays.”
There are also reports of vendors in the area selling “radioactive spiders” who are popular among many of the workers. “Haha, I’ve bought a few spiders,” claims Toranaga. “So far, nothing but a few itchy sores but I remain hopeful.”
“Look, I’m not purposefully trying to cause any major nuclear disaster here, nobody wants a Godzilla incident on their hands,” he added. “I just want to increase my odds of being at the right place at the right time for my body to undergo a violent radioactive mutation that leaves me with superhuman powers.”
Such troubling reports have shocked health and safety experts who advise against unnecessary exposure to any radiation. At the same time, they admit they need all the help they can get, and thus a blind eye is often turned to those looking to become superheroes.