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At Fukushima, 'nuclear gypsies' struggle with low wages and steep risks

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Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)
Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant (Credit: Tokyo Electric Power)

The massive 2011 earthquake that struck off the coast of Japan catalyzed meltdowns, explosions, and dangerous radiation leaks at the country's Fukushima power plant complex. More than two years later, the process of cleaning up that mess has become something of a disaster itself: an estimated 50,000 "nuclear gypsies" employed by the project are now grappling with poor wages, risky working conditions, and rampant labor violations.

In a sweeping investigation, Reuters reports that a combination of factors like lax governmental regulations, sketchy contractors, and poor oversight is to blame for the fiasco. Some workers complain of having their wages skimmed by illegal labor rackets, while others say they were hired to do one job before being forced into a much more dangerous one. Unfortunately, the investigation notes that the Fukushima cleanup merely highlights problems that have long plagued the industry. "Working conditions in the nuclear industry have always been bad," Saburo Murata, deputy director of Osaka's Hannan Chuo Hospital, told Reuters. "Problems with money, outsourced recruitment, lack of proper health insurance — these have existed for decades."