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Nuclear workers worldwide commemorate Fukushima disaster

1 April, 202125,000 people died or disappeared in the Great East Japan earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 and the Tohoku tsunami on 11 March 2011. Union leaders from nuclear and energy sectors met online on 30 March to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

In his opening speech, Valery Matov, IndustriALL vice co-chair for the nuclear sector and president of Atomprofspilka, Ukraine, said:

“It is very important for us to discuss the priorities of nuclear power workers, environmental issues, to learn from mistakes and to use technologies to prevent such tragedies and protect workers at nuclear power plants, and the population around.”

As many as 160,000 residents were evacuated when radioactive leak was detected at Daiichi nuclear reactors. When a 15-metre tsunami hit the power plant, the cooling system lost power.

In the past ten years, Japanese nuclear workers have carried out front line recovery work, removing fuel residue from the reactors, purified contaminated water and monitored the cementation of contaminated land surfaces.

The Federation of Electric Power Related Industry Worker's Unions of Japan (DENRYOKU SOREN) and Japan Trade Union Confederation (RENGO) have been sending volunteers to participate in community recovery works.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), has strengthened disaster prevention measures; a 22-metre heigh seawall to block tsunamis has been built, off-site power generators are in place as back-up power supplies, and various facilities are put in place to mitigate earthquakes, tornados, hydrogen explosions and terrorist attacks. 

Koji Sakata, president of Federation of electric power related industry workers’ unions of Japan (DENRYOKU SOREN), says:

“We are grateful for the encouraging messages and donations from the international community. Nuclear workers in Fukushima face great challenges in the decommissioning work, especially related to the disposal of purified waters as storage capacity has been exceeded. We need your support on this.”

The Fukushima disaster has brought enormous changes in nuclear strategies for all countries. The 75 unionists from Spain, France, Turkey, Belgium, UK and Ukraine praised the enhanced safety measures and reported that nuclear operators in Europe had stepped-up efforts to prevent nuclear reactor accidents. In the Ukraine, operators have conducted stress tests for all nuclear reactors.

European nuclear workers are engaging with their governments and the general public on decommissioning nuclear power plants. They called for a Just Transition to cushion impacts of employment loss as European countries are moving towards renewable energies.

Diana Junquera Curiel, IndustriALL energy director, said:

“Despite great investment in renewables, there must be an energy mix to guarantee energy security. Countries that have decided to get rid of nuclear power must put proper energy just transition plans in place in order to provide a future for nuclear workers.”

Governments need to take into account that nuclear plants are found in faraway locations. To close-down, decommission and dismantle these plants, governments must bet on industrialization, which will be indicated by the market and by the governments itself.

“IndustriALL is working on concrete recommendations for a Just Transition in the energy, mining and mechanical sectors. We cannot ask workers to stop what they are doing today without telling them what they are going to do tomorrow,”

says Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary.