TEPCO worker frustrated over company's treatment of employees
An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), who was asked by the utility to return evacuation compensation payments he received for the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, lamented the company's frosty attitude toward workers like him who had devoted themselves to bringing the crippled plant under control.
The employee was among those who worked on the front lines immediately after the onset of the nuclear disaster in March 2011, under the leadership of then plant manager Masao Yoshida. Amid high levels of radiation, the employee and his colleagues trembled with fear as they worked to contain the unprecedented nuclear plant disaster.
Faced with TEPCO's unsympathetic treatment of them, however, young employees are leaving the company in despair. Declining morale among workers is casting a shadow on ongoing efforts to decommission the plant's reactors.
Hailing from outside Fukushima, the employee has developed a fondness for Fukushima after working for many years at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear plants. "I feel as if this is my hometown," he says about Fukushima, where he is also involved in community activities.
"I can't stand any further contamination of my hometown," he thought in the wake of an explosion at the No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on March 12, 2011. He and his colleagues approached the reactor building, trembling. When they returned to a quake-proof building about 300 meters away from the No. 1 reactor after work, Yoshida was yelling angrily in a teleconference with TEPCO's Tokyo headquarters. But he was tender to local staff, often telling them, "You guys are doing great work."
The employee continued to work under harsh conditions, but felt what he was doing was worth it. However, he received a letter from TEPCO last spring asking him to return part of the compensation he received from the utility, and to sign and send back a letter of consent.
"That can't be possible," he thought, and read the letter over and over again. But it was unmistakably an invoice addressed to him by his employer. He shed tears of frustration and suffered sleepless nights. His coworkers had also received similar documents. A gloomy, depressing atmosphere prevailed, significantly undermining workers' morale.
The salaries of TEPCO employees were slashed by 20 percent immediately after the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Such cutbacks have been followed by the suspension of compensation payouts to employees in 2012 and the demand to return compensation in spring 2013. These changes resulted in more than 10 employees -- mainly in their 20s -- leaving TEPCO. Among them were employees who worked together with the male employee to bring the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant under control.
"Everyone felt responsible that a nuclear plant that we'd been operating caused this crisis, and we all persevered in our work (following the disaster)," the employee said, adding that motivation among his colleagues waned because of their maltreatment by the utility. The employee says he couldn't tell an outgoing coworker, "Let's hang in there together."
The employee recalls Yoshida telling them, "You guys tried very hard amid high radiation doses. I will look after you properly."
"If he (Yoshida) was alive, things wouldn't have turned out like this," the employee sometimes thinks to himself.
While he feels helpless, he tells himself he's going to stick it out for the sake of his "hometown."
January 04, 2014(Mainichi Japan)