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Three Years Later, A Harrowing Visit To Fukushima

A Tokyo Electric Power Company official (center) stands with journalists at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan on Nov. 7. Cleanup efforts at the plant remain ongoing.
Kimimasa Mayama/AFP/Getty Images

On Thursday night, I stayed at a motel in the town of Hirono, just outside a restricted zone in Fukushima Prefecture. The motel’s residents were all men, all apparently working on the cleanup of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, where three reactors melted down and a fourth caught on fire after a quake and tsunami in 2011.

I was told that, except for a few elderly residents, most of Hirono’s inhabitants had left for other places.

In the motel’s restaurant, as the workers dined on chicken cutlets, rice and miso soup, they said they had come from all over the country to work at the nuclear plant. They added that they were lucky to be staying in a motel; the plant’s operator is mostly using subcontractors to supply labor, which drives down the pay and tends to leave the poorest workers living in crowded dormitories.

Workers and labor activists say that Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, is subcontracting the work out to avoid taking direct responsibility — financial and otherwise — for the dangers the workers face each day at the plant.
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