All of Japan is full of suspicion since the nuclear reactors in Fukushima exploded and TEPCO, the operating company, consistently downplayed the situation. So, what progress has been made in the dangerous recovery of the melted fuel rods? Fukushima workers have now contacted our colleagues of ZDF studio in Tokyo. The often so-called "heroes" who do the cleaning work gave account on sever working conditions and are clueless about their effective radiation doses there. Even if the nuclear disaster got out of sight for most people: for those who work there, it is still going on, as Johannes Hano and Martin Niessen report.
Martin Nissen: We're on the road toward the restricted area. It is still approximately 30km away from the ruins of the damaged nuclear power plant in Fukushima Dai-ichi. The villages here are almost extinct, we are in the evacuation zone. Schools that haven't had classes since a long time. Children and teachers spread to other schools. Savaged rice fields and abandoned barns everywhere. And then suddenly there is ahead of us the so-called J-Village. It used to be the training and recreation center of the Japanese football league. Since the triple catastrophe of March 11, it serves as a focal point for the rescue of the nuclear power plant. It is located directly at the borders of the 20km exclusion zone. Unauthorized persons are prohibited from entering. The workers return to this place after their tasks at the nuclear power plant. Through a side entrance, we undetectably access the site and shoot covert because journalists are not welcome here. By a roundabout route, we then go further into the 20km exclusion zone. There, we undercover meet three workers who want to give us some information about the partly inhumane working conditions. But for fear of reprisal don't want to be recognized.
TEPCO Worker: In this area, you virtually find any work anymore. So now I work for TEPCO. If it emerges that I pass on information to you, I'll have no work and no income. Then I can't support my family any more.
Martin Nissen: Obviously TEPCO and it's sub-contractors fear nothing more than openness. During our research, we strike a contract that forbids workers to talk to journalists. Literally it says:
"If the signatory takes up this work, be it inside or outside the nuclear power plant in Fukushima 1, he must keep all information in relation (whether written, oral or obtained through observation) strictly confidential."
"The signatory will never accept an interview or other inquiries from any media, whether these requests relate to work or not."
Martin Nissen: Workers tell us about the situation and working conditions in the atomic ruins. No wonder the responsible want to silence them. Again and again, new hotspots are discovered on the site, ie places with extremely high radiation. Mostly, they would only find out about them via television, they tell us. So as in early August, the absolutely lethal dose of 10 Sievert was measured around a pipe.
TEPCO Worker: We don't know where the no-go zones are, where it is really dangerous. During the work meetings, they tell us a little bit, but there is no reliable explanation where we must not go to, and as well there are no clear barriers.
Martin Nissen: But radioactivity can't be seen or felt, and for those affected often not even measurable.
TEPCO Worker: With my dosimeter, I can only measure in micro Sievert, but if you go to the reactor building 1, it displays ERROR. This means that it can't measure there any longer. Such figures have come out, numbers that were so high they could no longer be measured.
Martin Nissen: Although TEPCO applies robots at the most contaminated places, working at the atomic ruin would be a suicide mission, as radiation experts warn.
Eisuke Matsui, Radiologist: The workers there are subjected to extremely high doses, simply because of the external radiation exposure. If you add the internal one, ie by inhaling, food or drink, the burden is much higher. And recently, 10 Sieverts per hour were observed there, say that at least 10 Sieverts, because the measuring instruments couldn't read above. But the absolute lethal dose for humans is 7-8 Sievert.
Martin Nissen: But even the much lower radiation doses that the workers are continually exposed to at the destroyed nuclear power plant could cause significant health problems even in subsequent generations.
Eisuke Matsui, Radiologist: If the male testicles are exposed to intense radiation, this can cause genetic defects in the descendants. This may be deformities of the limbs, for example fingers growing out of a shoulder. There may be abnormalities of the central nervous system and brain, mental retardation.
Martin Nissen: The workers see themselves in a hopeless situation, torn by fear, fear of radiation, fear of becoming unemployed and the fear of TEPCO. Two of them only want to talk to us in our studio, far away from the nuclear power plant.
TEPCO Worker: I am very afraid. What if in 10 or 20 years, when the highest expenditures for my family have to be paid, I got sick and could no longer support my family? I think about this a lot. I also worry about if my children will be born healthy.
Martin Nissen: But such worries are completely unfounded. At least the health advisers to the Fukushima prefecture claimed this during a briefing that took place shortly after the nuclear disaster. The man is a highly decorated doctor and he really is serious..
Shunichi Yamashita: Those who smile will have no radiation damage, only those who make constant worry. Well this is no animal testing, but I tell you. If you confront the situation as awkward as it is, then the radiation will not affect you. Less than 100 micro Sievert per hour is no danger to the health anyway.
Martin Nissen: 100 micro Sievert per hour, which would be 876 milli Sievert per year. The limit for workers in a German nuclear power plant is 400 milli Sievert, throughout life. But officials in Japan still downplay the risk. They don't bother to pay the workers properly, those workers who expose themselves to radiation every day. Our contacts show us their contracts with a sub-contractor. For the equivalent of 80-100 Euro per day they work at the nuclear ruin. A danger bonus is tied to conditions.
TEPCO Worker: You want a danger bonus?, they ask. If so please sign here. We have no choice, because of course we want a danger bonus that is up to 10 Euro an hour. But if you sign this, you accept that the employer is not sue able if you get sick later.
Martin Nissen: A spokesman for the energy giant washes his hands of responsibility. He had heard, he says, that the workers were informed about the hazards on site, and the contracts were no TEPCO business.
Yoshimi Hitosugi TEPCO Spokesman: We do not know what's written in these contracts, as they're concluded directly between our sub-contractors and their workers. We want to know whether TEPCO as the main employer didn't feel responsible for the workers who clean up their nuclear ruin.
Yoshimi Hitosugi TEPCO Spokesman: I'm sorry, I don't know the contracts, so I don't want to give any comment on them.
Martin Nissen: Workers who for a pittance do the dangerous dirty work at the atomic ruins, an employer who steals away from his responsibility and doctors, who recommend smiling as protection against radiation damages. Contempt for human beings in Japanese.
Since the nuclear accident in Fukushima, about 18,000 workers have already helped to cope with the disaster. Most of them were sent to the nuclear plants by sub-contractors and temporary employment agencies.