Heroes or Victims? The Fukushima Fifty: April 2011

4. April 2011

Heroes or Victims? - The "Fukushima Fifty"

Matthew Penney

The Fukushima plant workers have been widely lionized but who they are, why they work under such desperate conditions, and how they are being treated is less discussed. On the 29th, however, the Tokyo Shimbun published an article that sheds light on some unpleasant realities behind the heroic "Fukushima Fifty" (workers at the plant really number in the hundreds) story.

Under the title "We'll give you $5000 a day", the article describes how the company is having difficulty finding and keeping volunteers at stricken reactor site. TEPCO is seeking workers from subcontractors and related companies. Workers who have evacuated from Fukushima prefecture are being offered large sums of money to return to labor at the plant. A worker who declined the offer, Fukuda Ryuta, is quoted as saying that he knows of men past their fifties who have been enticed to return by large cash offers. Others testify that they fear losing their jobs if they do not undertake potentially dangerous work at Fukushima Daiichi. TEPCO and related dispatch companies are reported to be deliberately searching for workers over 50 to take on dangerous jobs.

Matthew Penney is an Assistant Professor of History at Concordia University, Montreal. He is a Japan Focus associate who researches contemporary Japanese cultural history.

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